May 12, 2011
It is said that April showers bring May flowers. So what do May flowers bring? Pollen, which attracts bees (and attacks the sinuses), and nectar which feeds the butterflies, emblematic of the welcome change in seasons. We know it’s spring when we start to see butterflies again, but how do butterflies know when it’s time to come out? Well, two ways—temperature and length of day, which increases as the weather gets warmer, says Dr. Robert Robbins, research entomologist and Lepidoptera curator at the National Museum of Natural History.
According to Robbins, the first butterflies of the season came out in Washington in the middle of March, during the few warm days we had that month. These early butterflies overwintered as adults, hidden underneath bark and in nooks in the woods. (Other butterflies may spend winter as an egg, a caterpillar, a pupa or fly south to avoid the cold). In the Washington, D.C. area, the most common species of butterflies you’ll see now are: Commas, butterflies that are a mixture of neutral colors like tan and brown with the exception of a big silver comma mark on their wings; Mourning Cloaks, black butterflies with yellow around the edges, so named because hundreds of years ago they looked like they were wearing cloaks for mourning and Spring Azures, very pretty light blue-colored butterflies. These butterflies aren’t likely to be around much longer, but not to worry, there are still plenty more to see.
Now, while the National Mall isn’t a very good habitat for butterflies, the ATM team scoured the museums to bring you the top five places to see butterflies around the Smithsonian Institution.
1. Take a stroll among live butterflies and exotic plants at the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History and learn how butterflies and plants have changed and evolved alongside one another over the years. With more than 40 butterflies on display, you can get up close and personal with butterflies from around the world. Ticket purchase is required before arrival.
2. Continue east of the Natural History Museum to find the Butterfly Habitat Garden, where nectar plants (which nourish the butterflies) and host plants (on which they lay eggs) come together to attract butterflies and encourage them to breed there, says Jonathan Kavalier, supervisory Horticulturist at Smithsonian Gardens. “The habitat garden is designed to encourage native butterflies,” says Kavalier. “There are about 50 butterflies that are common in the D.C. area and I would say that we have certainly a couple dozen represented in the garden.” The garden is busiest around the summer months but there’s already been some activity there, so get a jump on the crowds and enjoy the pesticide-free oasis for some of the prettiest harbingers of spring.
3. While finding butterflies outside comes at no surprise, they can also be found in some unexpected places, like the museums. With the end of the space shuttle program in sight, it’s important to remember the scientific experiments conducted aboard the shuttles and at the International Space Station. For example, did you know that a butterfly habitat was flown aboard space shuttle Columbia on the STS-93 mission in July 1999 for a butterfly metamorphosis experiment? Learn more and see a duplicate of the habitat at the Space Science exhibition station at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
4. Adult butterflies usually have a short lifespan. “If you bring a butterfly into the lab, where it won’t get eaten by a bird [or some other predator] and you feed it some kind of nectar or sugar solution, most butterflies will live approximately a month,” says Robbins, “maybe a drop longer, sometimes a bit shorter.” Some species are even endangered. See one, the Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly, on a 1996 single stamp (back when they were 32 cents) in the Postal Museum’s virtual exhibit collections. Granted Federal Endangered Status since 1984, this may one of the few places to see one up close. It is also one of many butterfly stamps searchable in the museum’s Arago database.
5. The newly-restored Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery of Art boasts a number of stunning attractions, among them a “lidded jar with design of butterflies.” See it now in its renovated surroundings. If you’re still on the hunt for more butterflies, stroll around the rest of the galleries and look closely at the paintings, you may find some additional butterfly renderings there.
While you are out and about, enjoying the weather, be on the lookout for other local springtime beauties like: the black and white stripped Zebra Swallowtail, which can be found eating pawpaw plants along the Potomac and Pautuxent Rivers, the yellow and black stripped Tiger Swallowtail, which feeds on the tulip trees which grow so abundantly around Washington and the Monarch butterflies, which should be returning back from Mexico.
May 6, 2011
Family-friendly celebration of plants, gardens and gardening. Add to a garden mural, build a puppet, make a miniature Japanese garden and take home seeds for your garden. Saturday will include live music and a stilt walker. Location: Enid A. Haupt Garden, south of the Castle. In the event of rain, activities will move to the Ripley Center. Free. Friday, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM. Saturday, 11:00 AM-3:00 PM. http://gardens.si.edu/gardenfest/
Saturday, May 7 Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Make a family storybook or create fortune cookies in clay, play a game with chopsticks or participate in video interviews. Watch the film “The Killing of a Chinese Cookie,” which answers the question “Who really invented the fortune cookie?” at 1:00 PM, followed by a Q&A with director Derek Shimoda. Cedric Yeh, curator, will give a personal look at the exhibition, Sweet and Sour: A Look at the History of Chinese Food in America. Free. 11:00 AM to 4 PM. American History Museum, sponsored by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program.
Sunday, May 8 Celebrate Mother’s Day with the Mendelssohn Piano Trio
A musical performance sure to tickle the fancy of any mother. Pianist Ya-Ting Chang, violinist Peter Sirotin, and cellist Fiona Thompson will perform works by J. Haydn and C. Saint-Saëns, as well as the celebrated Dumky trio by A. Dvořák. Free. 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. American Art Museum.
May 5, 2011
April showers bring May flowers. Or maybe, just mosquitoes. But the horticulture folks who bring you the Smithsonian gardens want you front and center tomorrow and Saturday (May 6 and 7). Bring your wellies and gloves to this year’s Garden Fest for tips and techniques to make your flowers and veggies grow like they were planted by an expert.
Established in 1972, the Smithsonian Gardens’ crew and staff like to think themselves as the “outdoor museum” of the Institution. The gorgeous landscaping and gardens are the equivalent of horticultural exhibitions, designed to compliment the museums that they border. For example, Natural History museum’s nearby butterfly garden tells the story of host plants and habitats like wetlands and meadows and woodland edges where the insects thrive. Garden Fest, started in 2006, is a two-day, free event that allows visitors to talk with Smithsonian horticulturists about the work they do and the places and spaces that they create.
“The Smithsonian Gardens themselves are an asset, not only to the visitors of the Smithsonian, but also to the residents of DC as a place of respite from the urban environment,” says Smithsonian horticulturist Shelley Gaskins. “Garden Fest seeks to educate the public about gardens, gardening and all things related.”
Visitors will learn about the benefits of adding certain insects into their gardens at Beneficial Insects in the Garden and how to increase biodiversity by growing heirloom vegetable plants at What is Old is New Again: Heirloom Tomato Pot-a-Plant.
Smithsonian Gardens chose “Celebrating the American Garden Experience” as the theme of this year’s Garden Fest. Many of the activities at the festival have been developed from American gardening traditions and highlight uniquely American flowers and plants.
Some of the activities include creating sunflower seed packets, coloring garden gnome plant stakes, and learning about the roles that trees have played in American history.
This year’s Garden Fest also starts on National Public Gardens Day. “Garden Fest celebrates National Public Garden Day by inviting local public gardens to join in our celebration,” said Gaskins. The information and activities available at Garden Fest help support the goals of National Public Gardens Day such as conservation, education and environmental stewardship.
Garden Fest will take place on Friday, May 6 from 11 AM to 1 PM and Saturday, May 7 from 11 AM to 3 PM in the Enip A. Haupt Garden, which is located between the Smithsonian Castle and Independence Ave. In the event of rain, all activities will move to the S. Dillon Ripley Center.
May 2, 2011
Monday, May 2 Written in Bone
Family-friendly and hands-on. Forensic anthropology is not just for scientists! Meet at Natural History in the exhibition, “Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake,” and learn to use human bones to solve mysteries. In no time at all, be an expert at identifying people from the past and drawing conclusions about how they live their lives. Free. Natural History Museum. 1:00 PM-5:00 PM.
Tuesday, May 3 Outsider Art
Smithsonian magazine contributor David Taylor talks about how outsider art inspires his writing. The author describes his first encounter with the intensely religious and visionary work, “Throne of Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly” by James Hampton, on view in the Folk Art section of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Taylor ‘s contributions to Smithsonian magazine include articles on the WPA Project and ginseng Free. American Art Museum. 6:00 PM-7:00 PM.
Wednesday, May 4 Born to be Wild 3D
Featuring the conservation efforts of primatologist Birute Galdikas with orangutans in Borneo, along with that of Dame Daphne Sheldrick‘s work with elephants in Kenya. Both women live near the animals, rescuing them and returning them to live in the wild. The film is shown at 2:25, 4:25 and 6:25 daily, in the Johnson IMAX Theater at the Natural History museum. Tickets are $9 adults, $8 seniors and $7.50 children ages 2 to 12. Toll free phone 866-868-7774 or online.
Thursday, May 5 Zing! Went the Strings
Enjoy string quintets by Haydn and Dvořák and a quartet by Mozart, performed by stars of the Marlboro Music Festival: violinists Benjamin Beilman and Veronika Eberle, violists Beth Guterman and Yura Lee, and cellist Judith Serkin. Free, but tickets required. 7:30 PM. Freer Gallery of Art.
Friday, May 6 Smithsonian Garden Fest
This two-day Family-friendly celebration of plants, gardens and gardening explore this year’s theme of “Celebrating the American Garden Experience.” Add to a garden mural, build a puppet, make a miniature Japanese garden and take home seeds. Saturday will includes live music performances and a stilt walker. Location: Enid A. Haupt Garden, south of the Castle. In the event of rain, activities will move to the Ripley Center. Free. Friday, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM. Sunday, 11:00 AM-3:00 PM.
April 9, 2011
All Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are open.
Don’t miss out on all the events and happenings, all scheduled as planned. Tarantula feedings at the Natural History Museum. A special tour of the Kinsey Collections at American History. An Earth Day celebration at the American Art Museum.
And here’s a list of all the exhibitions that are on view. For the first time, the Freer Gallery’s renowned Peacock Room has been restored to its appearance in 1908, when the museum’s founder Charles Lang Freer used it to organize and display more than 250 ceramics from all over Asia. The new exhibition, The Peacock Room Comes to America, debuts today.
Other don’t-miss exhibitions and landmark Smithsonian artifacts like the Hope Diamond, Julia Child’s kitchen, the Ruby Slippers, The Wright Flyer, The First Ladies exhibition can be found at the following Smithsonian museum locations:
- The Smithsonian Castle
- The Carousel on the National Mall
- The Ripley Center and International Gallery
- The National Museum of American History
- The National Museum of Natural History
- The National Air and Space Museum
- The Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia
- The Smithsonian American Art Museum
- The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
- The National Portrait Gallery
- The Freer and Sackler Galleries
- The Hirshhorn Museum
- The African Art Museum
- The National Museum of the American Indian
- The National Postal Museum
- The National Zoo
- The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City
- The George Gusav Heye Center in New York City
This weekend marks a special time for Smithsonian visitors and the Institution’s spokesperson Linda St. Thomas expressed her delight that the museums were all open for business this weekend: “People have planned for months, or a year or more, for their spring visits to Washington, which always includes visits to the museums and the Zoo. If it were up to us, we would never shut down. That’s why we are only closed one day a year—Christmas Day.”
Of course spring time is also is presenting Smithsonian photographer Eric Long with some of the most exquisite visual opportunities, enjoy this gallery before gearing up to head out.