The Florida Museum of Natural History’s fall plant sale will look a little different this year.
It will happen during Pollinator Palooza, a new virtual event series created to replace what would have been its 15th annual ButterflyFest.
Proceeds from the plant sale, held from Saturday through Thursday, will go toward the Florida Museum’s Butterfly Rainforest exhibit. Ryan Fessenden, manager of the Butterfly Rainforest, said available plants like the blazing star are good nectar sources and host sites for butterflies. The event will host roughly 100 species of pollinator-friendly plants.
Pollinator Palooza is a monthlong event that kicked off with an Oct. 4 workshop “Planting for Your Home Habitat.” Other activities include “Museum in the Park: Pollinators,” a socially distanced hike held at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, and a macro photography workshop with both virtual and in-field experience options.
At previous plant sales, the museum has set up a “showroom” at the front of their building where customers can peruse all the options in order to pick their favorite plant, Fessenden said. Now, due to safety measures brought upon by COVID-19, customers can shop the plants online during the six-day window, and select a time to pick up their purchases on Oct. 16, 17 or 18.
“Because butterflies are entirely dependent on plants, the Butterfly Rainforest has a collection of plant species to keep them fed,” Fessenden said. “It didn’t take us long after opening to realize that people want to be able to attract butterflies to their own yards. We realized that meant that people wanted those plants and that we could provide them.”
According to Florida Museum public programs coordinator Catherine Ward Carey, insect populations are declining. Those who navigate to the museum’s website can read about how this decline is due to habitat loss, pollution and climate change.
Carey said the main goal of Pollinator Palooza and its plant sale is to bring awareness to this issue, and encourage others to cultivate insect-friendly outdoor spaces in order to protect these insects as they face extinction.
“This is literally where our food comes from,” Carey said. “Although most people just complain all the time about bugs, we are in desperate need of healthy insect and plant populations to maintain our lives.”
According to Fessenden, about 5,000 plants are typically sold at the in-person plant sales. In the fall of 2019, the museum raised $25,000. He predicts that because of the pandemic’s circumstances, they will sell 3,000 to 4,000 plants this season.
“We certainly have many people very excited about the plant sale and calling about how they can be involved,” Carey said. “Ryan has been going around to Florida nurseries picking out the best plants possible for us to have to offer.”
Jacob Mass, 19, is a second-year digital arts and sciences major at UF who never had any interest in plants or gardening before taking a botany class freshman year. Now, over a year later, he’s passionate enough that his friends send him links to events like the Pollinator Palooza plant sale.
“I actually was already planning to go to a plant store with another one of my friends, so I thought, maybe we’ll go to that,” Mass said. “When I was at home over summer and I was able to move my garden outside, I would see bees come and pollinate the flowers. That was pretty cool.”
Potential Palooza participants can reserve a spot in a workshop or purchase plants on the Florida Museum’s website. Virtual workshops are held through Zoom.
The Florida Museum’s usual October event, ButterflyFest, is a weekend festival that hosts vendors, in-person workshops and butterfly releases.
In order to continue its tribute to these insects, the museum’s virtual workshops and available plants this year appeal to gardeners hoping to make their yard more attractive to pollinators.
“For one thing, people love butterflies,” Carey said. “And this adds a little bit of a reason why to love them, just because of their colors and beauty, but also as a reminder of how important they are in the environment.”