Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Where To Visit Butterfly Gardens Around Kansas City This Summer

A Gulf fritillary butterfly perches on a flower at the National Butterfly Center, which is home to several endangered plants and threatened animals. The center is asking a federal judge to block government officials from building a border wall on its property.
Claire Harbage
A Gulf fritillary butterfly perches on a flower at the National Butterfly Center, which is home to several endangered plants and threatened animals. The center is asking a federal judge to block government officials from building a border wall on its property.




This story was first published in KCUR's Creative Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

One of the bright spots of summer outdoors is the kaleidoscopic flash and flutter of butterflies as they make their way from flower to flower, guzzling nectar and serving as ambassadors to the world of arthropods.

But butterflies aren’t just a fanciful accessory to a garden display. These Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) are an integral part of the life cycle, pollinating the next generation of nature’s beauty — and often serving as a snack themselves.

To even spot a butterfly is to see an animal that has overcome staggering odds, though the family includes 14,500 named species.

There’s fossilized evidence that butterflies existed at least 56 million years ago, co-evolving with flora. Butterflies have fascinated us for thousands of years, flitting into our stories, imagination and mythologies. Some cultures, such as the ancient Greeks, thought of butterflies as the souls of the dead. In Mexico, the migration of monarchs arrive around the time of Día de los Muertos, thought to be the souls of ancestors visiting their loved ones.

Whether you’re an avid observer or just happy to note a spontaneous spot of color, here’s where to find butterflies in the Kansas City area.

Powell Gardens’ Festival Of Butterflies is one of the biggest events of the season. Now in its 24th year, the festival includes Lepidoptera from all over the world, in a variety of cultivated environments.

During the festival, there are events and activities to teach fans of all ages about these amazing creatures. Children can attend storytime, try catch and release, decorate butterfly wings and wear them in the daily parade.

On Thursdays, the gardens are open until 9 p.m. and offer more adult-focused tours. You can learn how tequila is made — and how to infuse tequila at home — in the class “From Garden to Glass: Margarita Edition."

Typically, butterflies only live a few weeks after they emerge from their chrysalis, just long enough to mate and lay eggs, so the window to enjoy them is narrow. The festival runs from July 22 to August 8.

Many local parks and attractions offer butterfly habitats in demonstration gardens, including Loose Park, Anita Gorman Conservation Discovery Center, Deanna Rose Children’s Farm and the Kansas City Zoo.

These gardens can transform into other opportunities, too. ThePilgrim Labyrinth and Butterfly Garden in Hyde Park offers yoga on Facebook live every Thursday and hosts an in-person concert once a month through October.

Of course, butterflies have long inspired our own creativity. Check out the Monarch Migration Art Walk in Riverside, Missouri, a one-mile hike to demonstrate the monarchs’ journey from Minneapolis to Mexico.

In their gentleness and grace, butterflies bring comfort and delight to many—making butterfly gardens an ideal place for contemplation. Local memorial gardens include the Robert Fluchel Memorial Butterfly Garden, in the Parkville Nature Sanctuary, and the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden in Kansas City.

There’s also a Children’s Memorial Butterfly Garden, in Lee’s Summit’s Lowenstein Park. The park is “a place for reflection, peace and comfort. The tranquility of the area is meant to provide families and friends of lost children the opportunity to memorialize them in a setting that can provide respite.”

If you want to create your own butterfly garden, you’re in luck! K-State Extension offers a pamphlet describing what plants to grow and what your garden could attract. You can convert your garden into a monarch's waystation by planting the milkweed essential to the monarch caterpillar’s development—and make them toxic to predators.

Once your butterfly haven is complete, you can get an official sign and certificate. You can also get a sign and certificate from the North American Butterfly Association, though their website points out that “actual butterflies probably do not care if you certify your butterfly garden.” Just here for the nectar, folks.

You can also help scientists learn more about the habits of these precious creatures. Monarch Watch is a program out of the University of Kansas affiliated with the Kansas Biological Survey, where participants can tag and track migrating monarchs. (Pre-orders for tagging kits are due by July 21.) The U.S. Forest Service also conducts a variety of studies, tracking caterpillars and monarch migratory paths, and relies on citizen scientists to assist.

Perhaps our recent road trip series sparked your interest to seek butterflies outside of the metro area. There are a few exciting butterfly destinations just a few hours away.

In Chesterfield, Missouri, just outside St. Louis, the Missouri Botanical Gardens has an exquisite Butterfly House. Currently, it's expanding its entomology lab, so expect some construction. This year’s theme is Under The Big Top and hosts a range of “Summer Buggin’” events.

The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, is one of the world’s top-ranked zoos. Among its many attractions is the Berniece Grewcock Butterfly and Insect Pavilion, which reopened in May. The space includes a conservatory for butterflies, moths and hummingbirds and exhibits an array of six-legged friends.

Want more adventures like this? Sign up for KCUR's Creative Adventure Email below.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3

Libby Hanssen