‘Big Bugs’ crawl into Morris Arboretum for the spring and summer

The bugs on display at the Morris Arboretum are no match for even a brigade of exterminators. Luckily these bugs, ranging from 25 lbs. to 1,200 lbs., are all constructed from wood. The arboretum’s “Big Bugs” exhibit, designed by David Rogers, kicked off on Saturday afternoon and will run through August 31.

A parade, featuring young children dressed as ladybugs, bumblebees, ants and spiders, marked the official opening. 

The exhibit features nine different bugs with an average weight of 245 lbs. and has appeared in 24 states. Locally, Big Bugs has crawled into Longwood Gardens (in 1995 and 2009) and Tyler Arboretum in Media, Pa. (in 2001). The idea came to Rogers in 1990, while visiting his cousin’s farm in rural Vermont.

“There was something about the curvature and posture of this particularly ravaged tree…that suggested a new life for the tree,” Rogers told employees at Morris Arboretum during a symposium explaining the exhibit.

12 days after he saw that tree, a dinosaur made of dried branches and tree saplings emerged, and the basis for the exhibit was formed.

At the dragonfly, which is made of parts of carved red cedar and willow trees, Anthony Wiemelt and his children spent some time in awe of this unique bug. The kids, like many of the other children in attendance on Saturday, came prepared wearing waterproof boots, enabling them to splash freely through the shallow brook the dragonfly resides in.

“I’ve never been to the arboretum before. Someone e-mailed me a link about the exhibit’s opening and it sounded great,” Wiemelt said from the shade of the dragonfly’s expansive wings.

Big Bugs made its debut at Texas’ Dallas Arboretum in the summer of 1994. 19 years later, the bugs are still in pristine condition. As a former builder of wooden sailboats and cabinets, Rogers knew the secret to ensure the wood’s longevity: lacquer and lots of it. 

Among other bugs, exhibit goers will see a praying mantis, which is the heaviest at 1,200 lbs., a grasshopper, a damselfly and a spider in a web.

It was the children who were spending the most time next to and admiring the larger-than-life bugs. In between doling out directions and fielding a multitude of questions, Joan Regan, the arboretum’s membership ambassador said, “The entire garden center is geared toward children. The idea is they’ll see this exhibit and want to keep coming back to Morris Arboretum for more and more.”

The arboretum was recently awarded the highest level of recognition by The Morton Register of Arboreta, a database of public gardens that focus on tress and shrubs, for their work in conservation and collection. The Morris Arboretum was the only arboretum in the Philadelphia-area to receive that level of recognition. 

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