Tropical Indoor & Native Outdoor Gardens for Insects

Interview with Amy Yarger, Horticulture Director

What is your organization’s mission?

butterfly pavilion logo
Butterfly Pavilion
6252 W. 104th Ave.
Westminster, Colo. 80020

The Butterfly Pavilion is celebrating our 25th anniversary this year. A few years before our opening in 1995, the idea for this special resource was hatched by Dr. Michael Weissman, who was passionate about invertebrates. He had been traveling around the area with a ‘bug mobile’ to educate young people and adults. He wanted to help them overcome their fear and better understand the role that invertebrates play in our world. Today we are the only stand-alone invertebrate zoo in the world accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Our mission is to raise awareness for the conservation of invertebrate habitat and care for threatened habitats globally.

Butterfly Pavilion guests in the tropical garden

What role does horticulture play?

For the indoor zoo, horticulture helps us support our animals by growing food that they eat and providing habitat for their living needs. It also creates a botanic garden-like environment that our guests truly love. It immerses them in a tropical environment that’s very uncommon for most of our guests and provides them with a special, contemplative space. With our four-acre outdoor gardens, we strive to support biodiversity, both in the plant life and the animal life. We also have established a short-grass prairie, which is a native component explored by visitors via our nature trail.

butterfly pavilion garden
The Butterfly Pavilion native garden

How do you maintain the plants?

We have 7,200 square feet of tropical rainforest that provides habitat for about 1,000 different species from all over the world. At any given time, 1,200 to 1,600 butterflies are flying around. To keep things in balance requires daily maintenance, most of which is devoted to pruning. We grow about 200 species of tropical plants and containment of exotic species is essential. Since we must follow strict USDA guidelines, the trimmings from pruning can’t simply be thrown in a compost pile. They must be double bagged, then frozen for 72 hours, then sent to a landfill. These measures are necessary to ensure no contaminants of plants, butterfly eggs or other organisms escape to the environment. In the outdoor gardens, our focus is just the opposite – developing a climate-adapted, native plant habitat that sustains pollinators and their host plants.

What lies on the horizon for the Butterfly Pavilion?

This year, we’ve seen a jump in interest, especially from adults. When we can open their eyes to the wonders of butterflies and invertebrates, then they become more informed and aware. At the moment, though, we don’t have the space to accomplish all the education and experiences that are so vital to our mission. So, we are undertaking a new expansion and will be moving to a new location in Broomfield. The new Butterfly Pavilion will be a state-of-the-art, innovative facility that will increase our educational capabilities. It will also be part of a 1,100-acre Pollinator District, where the entire landscape functions to increase sustainability and biodiversity.

monarch butterfly caterpillar
A monarch butterfly caterpillar

What do you like best about being a CNGA member?

We’ve been a member for a long time and CNGA has provided us with a wealth of benefits. We get connected to a wonderful group of members who willingly share their expertise, which is so valuable to our team. We love the networking opportunities and through CNGA we’re able to build new skills. We’re glad to be part of this community.