The walls of Gary Ross’ Stratford Place home bring to life the countless myths that have surrounded the butterfly since ancient times. Woven tapestries depict the Aztec belief that the winged creature carries the deceased to heaven, while small sculptures demonstrate the insect’s connection to both the human realm and that which lies beyond.
“Butterflies are the number one animal that is respected and honored by cultures worldwide,” explains Ross. “God reveals himself in many ways, and to me the most significant is through butterflies.”
As Baton Rouge fills with monarchs this time of year as the orange and black species makes its annual trip down to Mexico for the winter, it is impossible to ignore the beauty and mystery that surrounds the small creatures.
“I think a lot of the interest revolves around the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly,” says Ross. “In Mexico, the over-wintering monarch populations land on trees and look almost like leaves until, all at once, they fill the air so thick that you can hear their wings and see the bright orange scales falling onto your clothes.”
While Ross has spent his entire life traveling in adoration and exploration of butterflies, many in the Capital City are discovering an interest later in life. One such person is Ken Bosso, who on a whim decided to start a butterfly garden after the death of his wife. Eager to share his backyard encounters, he created a Facebook group four years ago. Now expanded to include the entire state, the Louisiana Butterflies and Moths group has nearly 1,500 members and almost constant conversation.
“It’s a very friendly group,” says Bosso, who has connected with people across the state through the social network. “If you post a question, it will likely get answered within the hour. People are always willing to help adopt caterpillars or drop off plants to one another.”
One of the main goals for any butterfly enthusiast is to ensure the planting of butterfly-friendly plants and, most importantly, milkweed, which is the monarch’s sole nutritional source.
“Butterflies like weeds,” says Ross, who notes that while his neighbors don’t necessarily appreciate his unruly landscaping, he prefers plants that attract butterflies of all kinds. “I think my yard is much more appealing than something manicured because mine attracts such beauty to it. I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want that.”