An ecological endeavor

In its new pavilion, the Botanical Gardens takes the issue of butterfly protection under its wing.

butterfly (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
With all the commotion in the holy city, Jerusalem's smaller movers and shakers often get left in the dust. According to Oren Ben-Yosef, CEO of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, butterflies are an extremely important part of the ecosystem in Israel. With the onset of sprawling building projects and large-scale housing developments, the butterfly population in Jerusalem has dwindled. To help the insects get re-acclimated to the city, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens has opened a butterfly pavilion that aims to educate the public. Located just outside the gardens' Australia section, the butterfly pavilion boasts five butterfly species, all native to Israel, most being from the Jerusalem area. "It's about reducing our ecological footprint," says Ben-Yosef; "we ruined the natural places for the butterflies. There are fewer frogs, bees and turtles in Jerusalem, too." Recently, the Environment Ministry published a list of endangered butterflies. This is what inspired the Botanical Gardens to launch its own butterfly conservation effort, while at the same time creating a space where visitors can enjoy the beauty of the many local butterfly species. "Everybody likes butterflies," says Ben-Yosef. "What many people don't know, though, is that they are one of the most important insects for flowering plants." Ben-Yosef hopes that the new butterfly pavilion will help inform people about the important role butterflies play in Israel's ecosystem. The insects are crucial in the pollination process of many local plant species and serve as bio-indicators for a number of environmental problems. Pollution, as well as water shortage, can be gauged by the size and vitality of the native butterfly populations. The pavilion attempts to create the perfect environment for the insects. When visitors enter the pavilion, they are immediately surrounded by butterflies and a refreshing mist that helps the butterflies stay hydrated and cool. In front of the pavilion, there are three enclosures that display the three cycles in a butterfly's life. In the first enclosure, small butterfly eggs rest on the leaves of plants. Different butterflies have different methods for ensuring their offspring's survival. The lavneen (small white) lays a large group of eggs on one leaf in hope that one of the eggs will become a butterfly. The swallowtail, a tropical butterfly, lays an egg on each of many different plants. In the second display, caterpillars crawl among the plants and prepare to build their cocoons. The third display shows the cocoons that the caretakers have pinned up on cardboard for visitors to observe, as well as for their protection. Under ideal conditions, the caterpillar will weave its cocoon within three weeks of hatching and rest in the cocoon for two weeks before emerging as a butterfly. If not, the caterpillar will stay in the cocoon all winter and emerge only when the conditions are right. More than simply educating the public about butterflies, the Botanical Gardens hopes that the pavilion will encourage people to become pro-active. "We want to teach people what they can do in their own gardens to attract butterflies," says Ben-Yosef. Though many people may think that attracting butterflies is difficult, Ben-Yosef insists it is not. "If you put milkweed (Asclepias), you will have swallowtails," he says. Outside the pavilion, workshops are held for children to make butterfly mobiles and learn about the insect. And garden-ready plants with caterpillars are available for sale to the public. Ben-Yosef underlines three goals that the pavilion hopes to achieve. "First, we want to raise awareness about the issue - to teach people how we can prevent ecological damage. Second, we want to encourage people to plant their own butterfly gardens. And third, we want to convince people to be more active in conservation efforts." The pavilion hopes to bring in more butterfly species. The "Golden butterfly of Jerusalem," found 100 years ago in Jerusalem, is one of the species the garden hopes to acquire. According to Ben-Yosef, this rare butterfly is dwindling rapidly and is hardly ever seen in the wild. The butterfly pavilion will be open until October. The Botanical Gardens hopes to reopen the pavilion in the spring.