San Diego, California - Horticulturists arrived back at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park early this morning, after making one of many visits to local growers in San Diego County to hand-select the plants that will be placed inside the Butterfly Jungle aviary, in preparation for the Park’s annual springtime event. Butterfly Jungle will open to the public at 9 a.m. March 10, providing a one-of-a-kind-experience for guests as they walk through a rain forest aviary filled with thousands of colorful butterflies. All 250 plants selected this morning were chosen based on strict criteria to fulfill the food requirements of the more than 30 varieties of butterflies that will inhabit the exhibit.

As a requirement of the Park’s permit to host the butterflies, the horticulture staff must ensure that the exhibit does not include host plants—meaning plant species that encourage egg laying and provide a food source for caterpillars. Instead, the staff looks for plants that provide a good source of nectar for the butterflies but are not varieties that caterpillars would eat.  

Plants are also selected for their flower size. Small flowers allow the butterflies to get their proboscis (tubular mouthparts used for feeding and sucking) down into the flower, where the nectar is. Examples include pentas, lantana and heliotrope, which the butterflies love to feed on. It’s important to offer a wide selection of different plants, so the different species of butterflies can select the plants they prefer.

The horticulture staff’s work isn’t done when the first planting is complete. Ensuring the flowers are fresh and full of nectar for the butterflies during the event is an important job. Staff will need to replace and maintain 200 to 300 plants of a dozen varieties, each week during the five-week event. Butterfly Jungle runs March 10 through April 15. The event is included with Safari Park admission, and guests can enjoy the event daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Butterfly populations are in decline all over the world, as well as here in San Diego. Butterflies play an important role in their environment as pollinators for native plant species. During Butterfly Jungle, San Diego area residents can learn how they can help local butterfly populations by including plants in their own gardens that attract butterflies, and support all stages of a butterfly’s life—from egg to caterpillar to adulthood. Planting species that butterflies like will encourage them to hang out in home gardens, giving homeowners hours of pleasure watching the different stages of a butterfly’s life.  

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) and the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring the children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.