might be a butterfly conservatory. Or not. The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, home to over 2,000 butterfly species from around the world, is a little like a tony African photo safari or a giant precious zoo filled with live confetti fluttering by and occasionally, amazingly, brushing up against your arm. You might rather see a hyena in the wild, without all the frou frou.
But people sure do love it. Remember butterfly kisses, your eyelashes against a baby’s cheek? Here they are in abundance.
First, you must complete your snoozy, long drive across Ontario.
Pull up under the massive twin-stemmed bur oak on the grounds.
(Burr oak if you want to be less pretentious.) Quercus macrocarpa has exceptionally large acorns if you catch it in the right season, each with a jolly fringe.
The Conservatory offers flowers that attract flutter-bies and humans alike. Such as Clerodendrum.
Or the jungle geranium.
The beasties themselves vary – 45 species coexist here, around half imported from places like Costa Rica or the Phillippines, but some raised on site in a quarantined greenhouse. Sounds antiseptic, somehow. Paging Dr. Moreau.
Some look to be dead, like the mystical blue morpho I found on a hot stone, but they are simply drying their wings and relaxing.
I might have seen a Karner blue, the species discovered and named by Vladimir Nabokov in 1944 (he began collecting lepidoptera at the age of seven) but it flew away so fast I could not document the find. Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man, said the writer of Lolita, he who knew something about great writing. Something he might have liked at the Conservatory, girls in their summer clothes, in the immortal lyrics of another writer, Bruce Springsteen.
Some specimens take advantage of fruits provided by the professional lepidopterists on staff. Spelling courtesy of the resident owls.
A place to both people- and turtle-watch.
I thought the butterflies would be bigger. And the tourists smaller.
When asked what was the funniest thing she’d seen here, Sharon the teenaged docent told me that sometimes they lay eggs on people’s clothing and they freak out. The people, not the butterflies.
Exit through the gift shop, asserts Banksy, a bit of an artistic butterfly himself, specializing in the ephemera of street art.
And of course the purity of butterflies winds seamlessly into the epic lepidoptera-themed store as you go out. I looked for earrings made with butterfly wings. I had a pair when I was a teenager, gleaming blue morpho. Lost one in the tall grass on a summer night, and the boy I was with went back the next day and in a stroke of kismet found it for me. No morpho earrings to be found here, of course, PETA would most likely object.
If the humidity of the throng gets to you, step outside into the cool air of the wildflower garden. Mid-August is the purple season. Coneflowers.
Bromus erectus. Don’t have to be gaudy to be beautiful.
Even the plain old begonias here on Canadian soil are bodacious.
Sweetgum, always a sweet sight.
A perfect snail.
Sculptural steel wings.
And finally, incredibly, an actual wild butterfly on the lam.
Could it be a Viceroy? I wonder. Kismet.