At The Butterfly Place in Westford, ethereal beings soar in the humid air. Sometimes they rest on the leaves of trees and flowers, or on the walkway, or on the humans who come to visit.

At The Butterfly Place in Westford, ethereal beings soar in the humid air.

Sometimes they rest on the leaves of trees and flowers, or on the walkway, or on the humans who come to visit. 

That’s because it is their place, aptly named, The Butterfly Place, which has provided a haven for scores of butterflies and moths – and a space for harried people to enjoy them -- for nearly 20 years.

It’s a center of enjoyment, but also education, with a display of plump caterpillars grazing on their favorite greenery, or snuggling into and wriggling out of cocoons (if they’re moths) and chrysalises (if they’re butterflies.)

A quarantine area displays newly arrived specimens from outside the area. Some are quite eager to break out, judging by their energetic fluttering, as if distantly hearing Elton John urging, “Butterflies are free to fly, fly away…”

Inside the atrium, a fantasy garden awaits, with vibrant flora and even some unusual fauna – Chinese pigeons donated by a past visitor, and which earn their keep by snacking on spiders and other undesirable creatures that could make life difficult for the main attractions.

A pool sparkles with koi fish, which, unlike the pigeons, don’t do any work at all but create an evocative presence.

For all these attractive charms, no one doubts who the real stars are, as butterflies – sometimes alone, sometimes in shimmering clouds – glide gracefully toward the translucent roof, or flit from flower to flower.

Others dart about in an erratic pattern some biologists think is not so random – in nature, this behavior can confuse birds, kids with nets, and other would-be eaters.

Kat Loxie of Billerica was visiting on a recent Saturday with her mother, Fatima Loxie, and nephew, Alexander, a wide-eyed toddler.

“He loves flowers and butterflies,” Fatima said.

She added, “We came here 12 years ago, with my two daughters,” Fatima said. Cuddling Alexander, she said, “Now we return with him.”

Michelle Casey of Woburn and her daughter, Renee Casey of Beverly, said they have been meaning to come for years and took advantage of a quiet weekend.

Michelle said she was enchanted by the many colors and patterns on the various butterflies’ wings and bodies, and said she was also learning a lot about what to plant in her garden to attract certain species.

A family affair

George and Jane Leslie opened The Butterfly Place – formerly known as Papillion Park - in 1990.

Each year, The Butterfly Place attracts between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors, and is home to as many as 500 butterflies representing 30 or more species, said daughter Sylvia Leslie, educational director, who also serves as a justice of the peace for many of the dozen or so couples who get married each year on the premises.

“We get a kick out of all the stories,” said Leslie. “People will say, ‘I came here in second grade. Are you hiring?’”

There are also those who, like the Loxie family, came when their children were small and are now returning with their grandchildren.

For the Leslies, who are amateur entomologists, The Butterfly Place is a fulfillment of a dream. It is also a lesson in the vagaries of state and federal wildlife restrictions. The federal Department of Agriculture requires a strict permitting and cataloguing of all non-local species, and the site is subject to routine inspections.

Doors are carefully designed to keep butterflies in, and exiting visitors are asked to check themselves in the mirror for any “hitch hikers.”

School groups and small children are frequent visitors to The Butterfly Place, but staff ask that adults make sure excited tots don’t step on or grab at the butterflies.

At the cash register, a framed butterfly with damaged wings is used to illustrate how fragile these creatures truly are.

They are fragile, and in every way, fleeting – most do not live beyond a few months after reaching adulthood.

They are truly a pleasure of the moment, and, biologists argue, an indicator of how healthy or badly off a given habitat might be.

And so when they take to the air, they take their stories and secrets of nature with them. 

The Butterfly Place is located at 120 Tyngsboro Road, Westford and is open seven days a week.

Hours: Feb. 14-March 31, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; April1- Sept. 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sept. 2-Sunday after Thanksgiving, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission: Adults $9.50, seniors 65 and over, $7.50, children 3-12 years, $6.50, children 2 and under free. Group rates available.

For more information, call 978-392-0955 or visit

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