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Friday, December 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Light Snow
The Daily
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Be with the butterflies at Olbrich Gardens
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Credit:Kenneth Burns

Life holds so few pleasures that don't require either special shoes or a Facebook account, but among the truly simple joys are butterflies. They are brilliant and graceful, and the process by which they metamorphose from pupae is magnificent, when you think about it.

Butterflies can be hard to chase down in the wild, though, and that is where Blooming Butterflies comes in. The exhibit at Olbrich Botanical Gardens lets visitors walk amid the orchids and palms of humid Bolz Conservatory and marvel at the creatures as they flutter overhead, feed on blossoms and sun calmly on leaves. Outside the conservatory, you also can view hundreds of butterflies preserved in cases, and even try to spot some in the gardens.

Blooming Butterflies opens at 10 a.m. daily, and at 9:57 Friday morning, the line to get in stretched from the gate to the parking lot. Later, in the conservatory, the exhibit was crowded, and it was not always easy to appreciate the quiet beauty of the insects amid the tumult of happy children and herding moms.

Still, the butterflies can't help but cast a spell. Most of the ones I saw flitting about were of the orangeish Julia variety, if I read a laminated handout correctly, though I also spotted some Monarchs and Zebras. Even indoors, butterflies are elusive, and I found that the best way to appreciate them was simply to find a relatively uncongested passageway in the conservatory, and then stand and wait for butterflies to fly by.

The effect of Blooming Butterflies is not as intense as that of the Puelicher Butterfly Wing at the Milwaukee Public Museum. In that exhibit's glass-enclosed garden, swarms of butterflies swoop and alight in such a frenzy that they make grown men and women giggle uncontrollably. Blooming Butterflies is less frenetic in this regard; there were many moments when I saw no butterflies at all.

One feature of the exhibit attracted relatively little attention: a wooden case holding rows and rows of meticulously labeled pupae. At the moment I peered in, a Monarch was flailing its delicate legs as it fought to emerge. A docent standing nearby also noticed the struggle. "Usually, the chrysalis is darker," she observed clinically. "It'll be interesting to see if he makes it."

Blooming Butterflies runs through Aug. 13.

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