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Walk through the doors of the half-circle, plastic covered building, and it feels like you just walked into a rainforest. If the over-head misters are on, the rainforest simulation is multiplied. Wall to wall plants, vines climbing up the walls and across the ceiling, color splashes throughout, and the hot humidity overwhelm your senses. Then you see it – something colorful floats through the air, right in front of your face! As you move your attention from this floating color and focus into the room, you see different colors, flitting all about, moving from one plant to another; small collections of many colors moving rhythmically throughout the rainforest. An inner tranquillity fills your body, you step through the door, and hear "Hi, welcome to the butterfly house," and force your gaze away from the mesmerizing scene to see a smiling face of the volunteer inside. You are about to experience the Panhandle Butterfly House.

This is the fifth year for the butterfly house. It’s open from May to September, and is run totally by volunteers with donations from its visitors. There are no funds or grants from the city or state, no paid employees, and no ‘permanent’ staff. I volunteered last summer for the first time, and will volunteer again. I tell the visitors it runs on donations and love. There is a director who started the whole thing. He obtained permission from the city of Navarre to build on city owned property. When it was built, there were only 2 other butterfly houses in the country. Since it has been built, the city has created a great park in the surrounding property, containing a large duck pond, children’s park, and nature walk. Many festivals and other community events are held in this park, which brings in many visitors to the butterfly house. People from all over the world have signed the guest book.

There is no admission, just a 10-gallon aquarium by the door for guests to put their donations in. Many people just throw in a buck for their entire group, but some will donate 20 or more dollars. The nature walk is paved in bricks, and the butterfly house sells ‘tax deductible’ bricks that are personalized with names, dates, etc. These bricks are set in the walk in places specified by the donors. Butterflies, caterpillars, and eggs are either donated by locals who love the butterfly house, or bought from Florida butterfly farmers. Most of the donations are spent on the butterflies.

Every butterfly in the butterfly house is a native Florida butterfly. You won’t see any blue Morphos or other exotics from the rainforest. Most of our butterflies are locals, from the Florida panhandle. What you will see are Zebra Longwings, Malachites, Gulf Fritillaries, Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, Monarchs, Queens, and Soldiers. Then there are the many Swallowtails: Giant, Palamedes, Black, Tiger (black and yellow forms), Pipevines, and Spicebush. There is a ‘nursery’ area where you can see up close all the caterpillars and chrysalis’ that are raised here.

Volunteers do their best to answer all the questions. These are not Leptridoptrists, Biologists, or Botanists. They are just plain people who love the butterflies. Many are people who visited the butterfly house and enjoyed it so much they volunteered. They want to learn more about the butterflies, just like the visitors, and don’t have all the answers, but love sharing experiences and hearing others adventures.

My favorite part about volunteering (besides the butterflies) is the kids. Watching their face as they see a beautiful butterfly up close is a site to see. The unbridled joy of these youngsters as they reach out a little pudgy hand to touch the ‘buerfi’ and their obvious surprise when it flies away just makes my day. They try to look at everything at once, and stand in the path and clap and giggle in excitement. To see such freedom in the spirits of children in the butterfly house makes it all come together. Children and butterflies are a combination that can’t be beat!

This butterfly house isn’t about making money. It’s a learning garden; a place for people from all over the world to raise their awareness about a butterflies’ place in our own gardens. The gardens grow inside the house as well as outside, all around the building. Butterflies reside inside and outside. There are many ‘volunteers’ outside, trying their best to get inside. Nobody is here because they ‘have’ to be all are here because it’s where they are happy. Even the butterflies; they come because they love it.

It’s obvious that this butterfly house holds a special place in my heart. I love working there as much as I love visiting. Many times, I take my son to feed the ducks in the pond behind, and we always stop to see what’s fluttering around. The species within the house depends on what’s flying at the time, and is constantly changing. Sometimes there will be many different species, and sometimes, just a few. It’s always fun to see what caterpillars show up too. These are usually creepy crawlys brought in by the local people, caterpillars they find on their trees or in the gardens. Once, we got some Oleander caterpillars, and it took us awhile to figure out what they were, because the person who brought them didn’t know what bush they were on. You never know what you’ll discover when you go!

The Panhandle Butterfly House is in Navarre, Florida on HWY 98. Navarre is in the panhandle, about 20 miles east of Pensacola. It’s right by Navarre beach, the best-kept secret in Florida, if you happen to be here on vacation please stop by and see. If you want more instructions or more information, please email me.

Unlocking the mysteries of a seed  Apr 2000
The art of companion planting  Mar 2000
What the heck is a host plant?  Feb 2000
What is a butterfly garden?  Jan 2000

Next month's article????  Any ideas????????


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