Butterfly season is winding down here in the north.
This sad fact had me thinking about my first butterfly encounters of the year. They happened during our March trip to San Diego for a family event. On one of the days, I had a couple of hours to explore Balboa Park--obviously, not nearly enough time--but I tried to make the most of it. (My first post about Balboa Park highlighted the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden.)
I knew next to nothing about Balboa Park before arriving. So, I basically started walking around--briefly glancing at the map to figure out the general direction and highlights I wanted to see.
Remember, I had recently landed in San Diego from the Midwest, where winter was just breaking its icy grip. Those of you who live in colder climates know the feeling--it's like coming back to life again after sleeping for several months.
Anyway, suddenly the world was full of color. Every blooming plant seemed like a gift, including these African Daisies (Osteospermum spp.).
And these Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) blooms, covered in bees.
As I meandered my way along the paths, suddenly I noticed butterflies everywhere--Western Tiger Swallowtails, Painted Ladies, Monarchs, and others. Following the butterflies, I descended a stairway into an area surrounded by rock walls, Ficus and Palm trees, and winding, circular paths.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I had entered the Zoro Garden. I wish I'd taken more photos, but it was under reconstruction while I was there. The above public domain photo provides a glimpse of a small portion of the six-acre sunken grotto garden before the reconstruction.
Even during my visit, with construction, butterflies were everywhere.
And then I noticed this.
And this (see the caterpillar?).
Those familiar with this plant know it's ravaged Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). And when it's "ravaged," that's a good thing. It means Monarch caterpillars have had a feast and are nearby. And if you're lucky, you'll also see Monarch adult butterflies.
I was lucky that day. There were many Monarch butterflies in the Zoro Garden.
I was so pleased to see them sunning on the ferns and nectaring on the blooms--mostly on Lantanas (L. camara), which confirmed my plan to include more Lantanas (annuals north of zone 7) in my own garden.
I also noticed some incredible Passion Flower vines and blooms (a host plant for Fritillary caterpillars/butterflies). I believe this is Crimson Passion Flower (Passiflora vitifolia).
This cute lizard was sunning on the rocks.
I'm thinking it was a Western Fence Lizard?
I lingered in the area taking in the butterflies and the sun and the blooms. I really had no idea about the significance of this garden until later, when I did some research.
Let's just say it has an interesting past. In an effort to keep this blog rated "G" (or at least "PG") I send you to a link about the Zoro Garden's history.
A friend with connections to Balboa Park's gardens says Zoro Garden has a promising future, as well--building on its recent past serving as a butterfly garden with host and nectar plants for the various stages of butterfly life cycles. Here's a brochure about the species you might find in the garden.
To get a sense of the Zoro Garden--where to find it (it's tricky) and what it's like to walk into it--here's a video someone posted to YouTube:
On my way back to the San Diego Zoo to meet family members, I noticed more Tropical Milkweed, more butterflies, and more caterpillars.
It was a good day.