Winged native insects grace RSABG’s annual display

There’s nothing like a butterfly to make your imagination take flight. You can currently view a slew of the flying insects at the Rancho Santa Anta Botanic Garden’s (RSABG) annual Butterfly Pavilion.

What distinguishes the Pavilion at RSABG—open daily through July 28 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.—from other such displays is it gives visitors the opportunity to view California native butterflies up close and personal. Nearly all of the critters flitting about, lighting on plants and visitors and dining on nectar and slices of fruit were collected locally, either in the Garden itself or up at Baldy.

Last week Carolyn Atherton, who grew up in Claremont, escorted her friend’s children, Josh and Jasmine Iyekar, ages 5 and 3, respectively, through the net-enclosed Butterfly Pavilion. The kids exclaimed at the sight of the array of species gathered, including the Monarch butterfly, the Gulf Fritillary, the Pipevine Swallowtail, the Checkerspot, the Cabbage White, the California Sister, the Cloudless Sulphur, the California Dogface and the Tiger Swallowtail. 

“We all love the botanic garden madly,” she said.

Ms. Atherton appreciates the way the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden looks the way large swaths of Claremont did before the native flora was crowded out by development.

“When I come here, it takes me back to how it all was in the ‘40s and ‘50s when there was much more wild around us,” she said.

The Pavilion has had many eager visitors so far this year, including a group of nature-minded 4th and 5th graders from Sycamore Elementary School who walked over for a peek at the beautiful bugs. No one, however, is as keen on butterflies as Bill Gendron¸ a retired engineer who returned at age 50 a beloved childhood passion for entomology, more specifically for studying and collecting butterflies. Mr. Gendron, who notes that some call him “Butterfly Bill,” now serves as the Butterfly Pavilion Coordinator.

His duties include helping to ensure the Pavilion has the perfect conditions for butterflies to thrive and overseeing the gathering of its denizens, which represent the full life cycle of the insects, from egg to caterpillar and from chrysalis to butterfly.

Every butterfly has different habits, Mr. Gendron notes. For instance, the bright yellow Cloudless Sulfur is the speediest flyer, making it very difficult to catch. And while most of the butterflies’ life spans are so short, many won’t live to celebrate the release party held at the end of the Butterfly Pavilion’s season run, the hardy Monarch butterfly lasts long enough to reach winter. There are a few commonalities, however, according to Mr. Gendron.

“The males search for the females and the females perch, waiting for the males. And they’re always looking for a meal,” he said.

As Mr. Gendron pointed out the cocoons hanging at the entrance to the Pavilion, it became apparent that enthusiasm for butterflies is unflagging.

“They’re like jade jewelry!” he marveled, pointing to the glistening green chrysalises dangling from a piece of foam.

There is plenty going on in the 86-acre RSABG, even beyond the butterflies. Earlier this spring, the Garden inaugurated a new loop path designed to help visitors explore the diversity of plant life in California. Along the trail, brightly painted arbors mark the way to an array of plant communities.    

The 30th annual Claremont Folk Festival will be held for the first time at the Garden this year on Saturday, June 14. Admission to the Festival is $25. For tickets and information, visit

Music lovers may also want to check out the upcoming Garden Groove concert series, which runs Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. Scheduled performers are as follows: Louie Cruz Beltran¸ June 27; The Rushingwind Project, July 11; the Blue Breze Band, July 18; the Illiana Rose Band, July 25;  Remember Then, August 1 and David Correa and Cascada on August 8. Guests are invited to bring a picnic to the concerts, which cost $10, $5 for seniors, students and children with a discount for RSABG members.

Admission to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is $8, $6 for seniors and students with ID and $4 for children ages 3 to 12. It costs an additional $2 to get into the Butterfly Pavilion. Admission to the Pavilion is free on its closing weekend. And on the Pavilion’s final day, visitors are invited to a release party, in which they can help coax butterflies back into the Garden.

For more information, call or visit 909-625-8767.

—Sarah Torribio


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