Butterflies are on the loose in Golden Gate Park's Conservatory of Flowers — and if you're lucky, one might land on you.
The popular butterfly exhibit is back, and this year it's better than ever. White netting has been draped over the walls and ceilings of the conservatory's hot and humid greenhouse, making the butterflies art on a blank canvas.
"Butterflies and Blooms" runs through Oct. 20. The small, intimate room has been transformed into a cottage garden, with wildflowers spilling over the edges and butterflies fluttering in and out of old-fashioned metal birdcages. It's the perfect setting for visitors to get a close-up view of the delicate creatures and see plant pollination at work.
More than 20 species of North American butterflies are on hand, from the popular orange-and-black monarch to the exotic cecropia moth. A "butterfly bungalow" — a small white hut in the middle of the gallery — displays rows of chrysalises from different species. Some look like gnarled bits of a branch. Others are jade-colored sculptures trimmed in gold that look like pendants one might find in a boutique.
"Pollination isn't exactly a process that is commonly understood," says curator Lau Hodges. "I think if you asked most people to explain how a flower turns into an apple, they wouldn't be able to. But life as we know it just wouldn't be possible without pollination — no flowers, no plants, no fruit. It's a crucial, natural process. We want people to understand that, and to know there are some very important insects and animals that do the work."
The information booklet that accompanies the exhibit is full of fascinating tidbits, like the fact that butterflies taste with their feet. The biggest challenge for younger visitors will be to understand that the butterflies might land on them — or not.
On a recent visit, a little girl in a pink shirt skipped around yelling, "I look like a flower. Perch on me! Perch on me!"
This week, visitors can also take advantage of other activities in the park that coincide with National Pollinator Week. On Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, the conservatory will offer a morning of crafts and activities for families. Other events include a honey tasting and pollinators tour at the San Francisco Botanical Garden.IF YOU GO
Butterflies and Blooms
Where: Conservatory of Flowers, 100 John F. Kennedy Drive, Golden Gate Park
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; closes Oct. 20.
Tickets: $7 general, $5 ages 12-17 and 65 and older, $2 for children 5 to 11, free for children 4 and under
Contact: (415) 831-2090, www.conservatoryofflowers.org
Note: A honey tasting and pollinators tour runs from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at the S.F. Botanical Garden, 1199 Ninth Ave. Tickets are $15. Call (415) 661-1316 or visit www.sfbotanicalgarden.org.