1/12/2017 – If you’re already tired of winter and starting to think of things to do near Atlanta when the weather begins to warm up, then we recommend putting an azalea garden or butterfly center on your agenda for when the calendar turns to spring. We know that there’s so much to do in the Atlanta area all year around, but spring is an especially delightful time when we all look forward to the azaleas in bloom and butterflies emerging from their cocoons to flap their wings.
Azaleas are a flowering shrub in the Rhododendron family that bloom in the spring and often flower for several weeks. They grow anywhere from 8 to 12 feet tall and flower with incredible blossoms of red, salmon, pink, purple, and white. They’re members of an ancient group of plants (Ericaceae) dating as far back as 70 million years ago. Almost all of the azaleas that we are familiar with were first cultivated by Buddhist monks in monasteries in Asia. Azaleas are mentioned in ancient Chinese medical texts and are the national flower of Nepal.
By tradition, the Japanese split the azalea into two groups: One that flowers 30 days after the spring equinox and another that flowers about 60 days after the equinox. Azaleas that made their first appearance in Europe (Holland) in 1680 were of Japanese origin and were known as Indian azaleas. Eventually, they became common greenhouse plants throughout much of the European continent and in England. In the United States, there’s probably no plant that has influenced the gardens of the southern United States more than the azalea.
The world’s largest azalea garden was founded by Cason and Virginia Callaway. The story goes that in 1930 they discovered a brightly colored azalea while they were picnicking and decided to create a garden to preserve these native azaleas. Their appreciation eventually led to the establishment of a 40-acre garden—the “Azalea Bowl“—located at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, that is now home to over 3,000 hybrid and native azaleas of various colors.
Butterflies are from a family of insects that also includes moths. The adult butterfly has large, brightly colored wings and a very obvious, fluttering flight. Butterfly fossils have been found that date to about 56 million years ago (the Paleocene Age). They have a life cycle in which the adults lay eggs on the plant on which their larvae (caterpillars) will eventually feed. Once the caterpillar is fully developed, it pupates in a chrysalis. When its metamorphosis is complete, the skin of the pupa splits, an adult insect climbs out, its wings expand and dry out, and then the butterfly flies off.
Butterflies, totaling over 18,000 species, are found throughout the world, except in Antarctica. The monarch butterfly species, known to be native to the Americas, spread across the world in the nineteenth century and can now be found in Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout parts of Oceania. Many species of butterflies can migrate for long distances, though these migrations are cross-generational. In fact, research has shown that up to six successive generations of the British painted lady undertake a 9,000-mile round trip from Africa to the Arctic Circle.
One of North America’s largest tropical butterfly conservatories is located in the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Here, nearly 1,000 or more butterflies flutter about freely in a glass-enclosed environment in which numerous tropical plants nourish the butterflies.
Book your next vacation at Callaway Gardens today.