The Benefits of Butterflies: the Healing Powers of a beautiful creature Airlie Garden’s Butterfly House provides tranquility for visitors in all walks of life

by August 27, 2012

The Butterfly House at Airlie Gardens is celebrating its third anniversary with record attendance this year. And while the region’s first permanent butterfly house continues to draw a full spectrum of children and adults, garden officials say its greatest benefits might extend to people living with illness, disabilities, or suffering from a loss.

According to Matt Collogan, environmental education program manager at Airlie, many visitors to the Butterfly House are senior citizen groups, grieving families and groups with special needs who seem to find peace when in the facility.

“Horticultural Therapy isn’t a new concept,” said Collogan. “The therapeutic benefits of this practice have been known since the 19th century. But to see it actually in use is another story – to see the impact on our visitors first-hand, and to hear their stories of healing, is priceless. I find it absolutely fascinating that something as small as a butterfly – an insect that so many take for granted – can have such a dramatic effect on people.”

In fact, healing gardens such as the Butterfly House at Airlie serve a broad range of therapeutic constituencies – from recovering addicts and dementia patients to children with life-threatening illnesses and those receiving hospice care, according to The American Horticulture Society. At Florida’s Jupiter Medical Center, for example, research found that patients who had a view of the healing garden took less pain medication and overall had shorter stays than patients who did not have a view of the garden.

The butterfly is also a symbol of tranquility and peace. Often those who have a suffered a loss come to the Butterfly House seeking solace and peace. Just this year, the Cape Fear Garden Club lost their matriarch, Mary Lou McEachern. The group plans to celebrate her life and relieve their grief by doing a butterfly release in remembrance of their treasured friend. Gayle Ward, president of the Cape Fear Garden Club, said, “Butterflies are very therapeutic. The butterfly can empower you to experience calm, peace and comfort within you.”

Betsy Ormond, member of the Oleander Garden Club of Wilmington – another group that has enjoyed the almost magical effects of Airlie’s seasonal Butterfly House – joined club members last year for a tour led by Collogan. While strolling through the 3,000-square foot garden, the visitors experienced face-to-face encounters with some of nature’s most delicate and resilient creatures.

“It showed the evolution of life, the new life of the butterfly. Each year you start off new,” Ormond said. “Just to be outside – to be working and to see things develop is calming and encouraging.”

Research suggests that time spent in healing-garden facilities likewise can create a feeling of sustainability in those suffering from memory loss, while familiar sights, like butterflies, can evoke buried memories. Fittingly, National Grandparent’s Day, celebrated each year on September 9, is an especially popular day for the Airlie Butterfly House. But the power of healing can last much longer than one visit, and extend far beyond the gates of the Gardens.

“As visitors explore our Butterfly House, they learn how they can help provide the environment butterflies need to thrive in our area,” Collogan said. “Because the house contains only native butterflies, the information visitors’ gain can be applied in their backyard – an excellent way to enjoy the healing powers of butterflies from the comforts of home.”


Airlie Gardens is a 67-acre public garden located in Wilmington, North Carolina. Established in 1901, the garden is a cultural and ecological component of New Hanover County and North Carolina history that features formal gardens, wildlife, historic structures, walking trails, sculptures, views of Bradley Creek, 10 acres of freshwater lakes, the celebrated 468-year-old Airlie Oak, more than100,000 azaleas and countless camellia cultivars. The garden is made possible with the generosity of public grant funds, the commitment of the New Hanover County Commissioners, and the previous owners, the Corbett Family, as well as support of local residents. For information about Airlie Gardens, visit


Butterflies can be seen in Airlie Gardens’ seasonal, screened Butterfly House from April 15 through October 15. Hundreds of butterflies, all native to North Carolina, can be found flying about inside this open-air structure. Species like Giant Swallowtail, Monarch, Gulf Fritillary and Red Admiral are just some of the majestic butterflies to be found inside the exhibit, which is open daily and free with regular garden admission. The Butterfly House, built entirely with private funds, is laden with plant species that support the habitat needs of these animals. The butterfly house was constructed in accordance with USDA standards and covers approximately 3,000-square feet in the shape of an octagon. The steel framed house is covered with panels of mesh netting allowing light entry and circulation, both critical for the health of butterflies. Two vestibules allow visitors to enter and exit the house.

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