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Friday, June 21, 2024

Blooms for butterflies: Florida Museum of Natural History hosts spring plant sale

Proceeds from Earth Day weekend support museum’s Butterfly Rainforest exhibition

Jamielee Thompson and Sofia Ramos pictured in front of plants at the plant sale located at the Florida Museum of Natural History on Sunday, April 21, 2024.
Jamielee Thompson and Sofia Ramos pictured in front of plants at the plant sale located at the Florida Museum of Natural History on Sunday, April 21, 2024.

Pickup trucks and wagons filled with florals and foliage exited a parking lot-turned-plant display as hundreds welcomed spring with open arms and green thumbs. 

The Florida Museum of Natural History hosted its 12th spring plant sale April 19-21. The Earth Day weekend celebration welcomed local gardeners and plant enthusiasts to peruse and purchase from more than 250 exotic and native species of plants. 

The event at 3215 Hull Road was spearheaded by Ryan Fessenden, the manager of the Florida Museum’s Butterfly Rainforest exhibit. Fessenden has spent about a decade aiming to inspire people to become interested in the natural world through the museum’s annual plant sale.

“Our primary goal is to encourage people to build butterfly habitats in their own yards,” Fessenden said. “A lot of native plants… generally require less maintenance than non-native species and… better suits increasing your biodiversity.”

The plants sold are butterfly attractors or butterfly host plants, hand-selected from local nurseries. Prices range from $4 to $20, and some rare plants cost up to $50, with all proceeds supporting the museum’s Butterfly Rainforest exhibit.

In recent years, the sale has grossed an average of $75,000 from more than 9,000 plants, Fessenden said.

“The more that we can support ourselves through the sales and the more we can improve the exhibit,” Fessenden said, “the more ways we can educate and excite people into getting interested in learning more about Lepidoptera diversity, ecology and conservation.” 

Beginning in 2006, the museum’s annual ButterflyFest aimed to increase awareness of Florida’s butterflies through activities, workshops and a plant sale. 

As time went by, the plant sale grew increasingly popular and larger until it became an entity in 2018. The plant sale, which was hosted biannually, is now only hosted in spring to accommodate for the community’s growing demand.

Recently, the sale moved from the museum’s parking lot to the lawn near its parking garage, which now holds the display and loading area. This year the museum staff and volunteers will adopt a color-coding system to keep organized while loading plants into customers’ cars.

Museum staff sees more than 100 excited patrons lining up in the parking lot an hour before the sale every year. Some hope to buy a plant or two, while others have a mission of mind, sometimes spending hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Nikhil Srinivasan, the public relations and communications specialist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, is asked about the spring plant sale all year round. He said he feels the crowd growing and growing every year.

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“We've carved a niche out for ourselves as this home for butterfly researchers and butterfly experts,” Srinivasan said. “[The plant sale] is a really cool event that ties in with our museum mission and what we're known for in such a synergistic manner.”

The selection of more than 150 native plant species attracted large crowds of gardeners of all ages.

Jacqui Sulek, a 70-year-old self-proclaimed native plant enthusiast, stood in line an hour before the sale began for the third year in a row.

“This is probably the best native plant sale happening in the area every year,” Sulek said.

Holding a yellow-lined piece of paper with a list of plants that resembled a shopping list, she searched through the native plant section to find the plants that grow well in her sandy garden.

“Gainesville is getting very savvy about the importance of native plants,” Sulek said. “We've got to start putting nature into our yards because the more of us, the less of them.”

Unlike Sulek, Kiona Clelland, a 22-year-old UF information systems master’s student, attended the plant sale with no mission in mind. Although she is graduating, she could not resist buying more plants to add to her ever-growing collection. 

“I feel like not a bunch of people our age talk about their love for plants,” Clelland said. “It makes me happy how many people are out here geeking over different varieties.” 

The Florida Museum of Natural History’s staff hopes to continue to increase the diversity of plant species offered in the future.

Contact Molly Seghi at Follow her on X @molly_seghi.

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Molly Seghi

Molly Seghi is a first-year journalism major at UF and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When not writing or journaling, she can be found at a live music event or working on her podcast “An Aural Account.”

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