The first thing that caught my eye as I looked through the observation window from the Hershey Gardens gift shop into the new tropical butterfly atrium were the giant blue morpho butterflies flitting about. I had never seen a blue butterfly before, or one so large. The blue morpho is just one species of butterfly introduced in the atrium housed in the Milton & Catherine Hershey Conservatory, newly opened in 2016. In total, 200 to 300 species of tropical and North American Butterflies will be represented in the atrium when it is fully populated.
Milton and Catherine Hershey Conservatory
I happened to visit Hershey Gardens in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on the very first day the Milton and Catherine Hershey Conservatory opened. The conservatory, inspired by one that Milton and Catherine Hershey built outside their mansion in 1904, serves as the new entrance to the gardens. Milton Hershey was the founder of The Hershey Company.
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Besides the butterfly atrium and the welcome center, with stained glass butterflies suspended from the 37-foot ceiling, the conservatory also includes an educational and horticultural wing. Anthony Haubert, Communications and Public Relations Specialist at the M.S. Hershey Foundation, explained that since the former Butterfly House was only open in the summer months, school groups could visit only at the end of May or in September, when school was in session. “With the conservatory now being open year-round, we’ll be able to hold a lot more school groups, teach them about the life cycle of the butterfly,” Haubert commented.
The tropical butterfly atrium is only one of twenty-five year-round tropical butterfly atriums in the United States. When I visited, the tropical butterflies were becoming acclimated to the surroundings. Native North American butterfly species were still housed in the original Butterfly House, which has since closed. An expert from the Smithsonian had confirmed the North American species will survive in the atrium’s tropical climate. They would be introduced slowly into the atrium.
Tropical plants for the atrium were brought in from Florida. Being a Hershey property, naturally the atrium includes a cacao tree. When the cacao tree arrived, it had pods on it, which had been harvested and taken to The Hershey Company’s tech lab before my visit. The cacao pods contain the beans that are used to make chocolate.
Another fascinating plant in the atrium is the bat flower, a black plant that looks curiously like a bat.
Elsewhere in Hershey Gardens
Milton Hershey opened a 3-1/2 acre rose garden in 1937 as a tribute to his late wife. The rose garden is still a highlight of Hershey Gardens, with 3500 rose bushes and 275 varieties.
If you go
Hershey Gardens, located at 170 Hotel Road in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is open year round, closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, and is wheelchair accessible. Check the website for hours and other details.
My accommodations were at the Red Umbrella Bed and Breakfast in nearby Grantville, Pennsylvania.
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Disclosures: My visit to Hershey Gardens was hosted by Visit Hershey & Harrisburg and Hershey Gardens. My admission was complimentary; however, any opinions express in this article are my own.
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