SPRING MILLS - Rose Franklin said she developed a fascination with butterflies as a child.
Many years later, Franklin, 61, turned that fascination into an integral part of Rose Franklin's Perennials, a primarily Internet-based business that sells butterfly-attracting plants and butterflies.
Franklin and her husband, Andrew Smith, have been rearing butterflies from their rural Gregg Township home since 1993 and since then have reared and released more than 15,000 butterflies, primarily Monarchs.
(Mirror photo illustration by J.D. Cavrich and Adam Kasun)
A Monarch butterfly lands on Rose Franklin in her butterfly greenhouse in Spring Mills.
Franklin started her business selling perennial plants in 1991 after she was laid off from her job as a mental heath technician. She got into butterfly rearing after she unknowingly killed Monarch caterpillars in the spring of 1992.
She said she had planted a package of blood flower seeds and after the plants grew, she found the leaves covered with little black, yellow and white-striped worms.
"We took the worms and squashed them," Franklin said.
She then went to the Pattee Library at Penn State University to do some research to figure out how to get rid of the worms. During her research, she discovered the worms were actually Monarch butterfly caterpillars.
"I then realized we had killed three dozen. The next summer we decided we could raise three dozen, so we could give back to nature what I had stolen," Franklin said.
She learned that rearing butterflies was not a difficult task.
"Monarchs are relatively easy to rear. It was a fascinating experience to watch the metamorphosis of a butterfly and we were hooked, Andy and I both," Franklin said.
However, research was required.
"For every butterfly species, each has a particular plant that its caterpillar needs as a host plant to eat. If it doesn't have the correct host plant, it will starve to death. You need to research the host plants," Franklin said. "You also need to know the life cycle of each; they are all different. For example, a Monarch from egg to adult can take 28 to 32 days. The Baltimore Checkerspots take 10 to 11 months."
Rearing butterflies also can be quite time consuming.
"If you are raising 500, it takes us two hours a day to clean the cages. Caterpillars are eating machines. It takes time to clean up and provide fresh food for them each day," Franklin said. "It also is important to control the temperature, humidity and light. Caterpillars like it 75 to 80 degrees, with humidity at least 50 percent."
Franklin said the butterfly end of her business started to pick up in 2000 when she launched a website www.butterflybushes.com, where she offered hummingbird and butterfly-attracting plants for sale.
"Getting the website up and running - that finally made my business prosperous. Adding Monarch eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises to the website dramatically increased sales. Today we sell 200 to 500 Monarch eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises per week from early July through mid-September," Franklin said. "We didn't find much local interest but once we got on the Internet, all at once the business took off."
Franklin sells a lot of eggs and caterpillars to schools for use in science classes.
State College Area School District is one of her bigger customers.
Brian Peters, director of elementary curriculum for the district, said first-and second-graders are taught a science unit on the life cycle of plants and animals.
"They observe the stages, and one of the biggest pieces of the course are the butterflies. They provide us with caterpillars and an indoor habitat for them and the milkweed for them to eat. They do exercises and observations based on what they see," Peters said. "Many schools have created butterfly gardens to coincide with this."
Butterflies also are sold for release at local weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries and open houses - "anything there is to celebrate," Franklin said.
Plant sales make up the bulk of her business, but the butterfly end has grown to about 30 percent of the business and likely will continue to grow, Franklin said.
"We specialize in hummingbird and butterfly-attracting plants. We have at least 80 species of plants; about 40 are hummingbird and butterfly-attracting plants," Franklin said. "The biggest seller is milkweed plants. It is the best plant for Monarch butterflies. That is what the caterpillars eat."
Franklin, a 1969 graduate of Penns Valley High School and a 1991 graduate of Penn State University, said she had three goals when she graduated from high school: to get married, have kids and author a book.
She said she realized her final goal when she wrote the book, "Fast Track Butterfly Gardening," which is offered for sale on amazon .com and her website.
Franklin realizes she is not going to get rich, but loves what she does.
"I try to keep costs reasonable. We have happy customers because of the quality and price. I am not out to get rich. I just want to be happy," Franklin said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.