Gulf Fritillaries perched on a stalk of salvia, one of the many varieties of butterfly-friendly, native Texas plants featured in the garden. (Credit: Wenhao Wu, associate professor of physics and astronomy.)


As hundreds of students take in another day's lecture inside the main lecture hall of the George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Building at Texas A&M University, the beauty of nature is quietly and unceremoniously unfolding above their heads.

Within the vast foliage of the near-10,000-square-foot Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden, the campus' first and only rooftop garden, a veritable kaleidoscope of butterflies, including Gulf Fritillaries, is emerging from pupa stage. The resulting army of caterpillars can be seen voraciously feasting on the leaves of native Texas passion vines and other suitable host plants among the unique garden's many Lone Star State varieties hand-picked for their fragrance and color.

The impressive show is expected to be temporary -- a week, at best -- but nonetheless breathtaking and as worthy of witnessing as any other perceived world wonder, according to Craig Wilson, a researcher in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) and a longtime butterfly enthusiast.

"It strikes me that we have come to the end of an era," Wilson said. "Crowds watched in awe as the Space Shuttle was piggybacked atop a modified 747 to its final resting place in California. They had cheered when it was in flying into space by tearing a tunnel through the sky to enter orbit. Perhaps those same cheering crowds could now switch their attention to something equally miraculous; the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis. The butterfly has to dry out and pump fluid into its colorful wings before making its maiden flight with no clapping, no round of applause, no fanfare. But is it not equally miraculous?"

The garden, accessible from the building's third floor and supported by a permanent endowment established by George P. Mitchell '40, is one of the many novel elements to be found in the form-meets-function facility that epitomizes forward-thinking design and sustainability. Dedicated to the inherent inspiration and education Cynthia Woods Mitchell found in nature, the garden features native Texas plants and environment-conscious design highlighted by the fact that is irrigated -- along with the building's other exterior landscapes -- by a cistern which collects and stores both condensate and rainfall.

Wilson, who maintains a registered Monarch Waystation within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-sponsored People's Garden located across the street from College Station's Wolf Pen Creek Park, encourages those on campus as well as the broader community to embrace the opportunity that both nature and the Mitchell family's generosity has made possible.

"To paraphrase the Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir: 'Most people live on the Earth, very few people live in it!'" Wilson said. "A visit to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden or to the Monarch Waystation outside the USDA/ARS building at 1001 Holleman Drive East might be good places to start appreciating the magic and beauty that is nature. It is too often overlooked in this fast-paced life. Slow down. Take time to smell the roses or observe the erratic flight of a butterfly as it searches for nectar, seemingly not cognizant of the awe and wonder it can inspire. Then you may applaud yourself for doing so!"

To learn more about the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden or other features of the Mitchell Physics Building, visit http://physics.tamu.edu.

For more information about Cynthia Woods Mitchell, check out this previous feature story detailing her inspirational legacy.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Nurturing Nature

    A February 2011 shot of new plantings within the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden, the first rooftop garden on the Texas A&M University campus located on the third floor of the George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Building. (Credit: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.)

  • Cynthia Woods Mitchell

    Cynthia Woods Mitchell with one of her many awards for pioneering achievement in cultural, community, educational and philanthropic endeavors. (Credit: Mitchell Family.)

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