Gracey’s Flighties

Most weddings are rich with symbolic gestures, such as the exchange of wedding bands. Denise McDonald has a new way to symbolize life’s critical moments: the release of butterflies.

Her new Milton-based company, Gracey’s Flighties, has released as many as 200 of the delicate creatures at weddings, symbolizing the taking flight of a new life together.

“It’s not that common at all right now,” says McDonald from her farm. “I had never heard of doing it before I saw it done.”

The name of the business stems from McDonald’s first encounter with a butterfly release. While attending a wedding in Pennsylvania, she saw hundreds of butterflies released during the ceremony. Her infant daughter Gracey was delighted. “Flighties, Mommy! Flighties” Gracey squealed, thus coining the term and setting the idea in motion.

Butterflies were a natural extension of McDonald’s existing business. She and her husband have been the proprietors of The Open Rose florist since 1980.

For such a wispy creature, butterflies take a good deal of space to farm. “It takes 18 plants and two additional nectar plants per butterfly,” explains McDonald.

Butterflies begin as barely visible eggs on a host plant, which hatch into caterpillars. After eating hundreds of leaves, the caterpillars spin cocoons, nestle inside, and then emerge as butterflies. The whole process takes about a month and the butterflies live but a single season.

Weddings aren’t the only place that a butterfly release is appropriate. McDonald has since seen them released at funeral, where a graceful departing has new meaning. “We’re including them in retail flower arrangements. We can including them with a card, so that when the card is opened, the butterfly takes flight,” she says.

Currently, Gracey’s Flighties raises only the hardy Monarch butterfly, which has the signature yellow wings trimmed in black. Plans call for eight varieties to be raised in the future.

The bride that wants to include butterflies in her wedding party must beware, however. Butterflies are finicky and will only perform under proper circumstances. If the temperature is below 50 degrees, they won’t fly. They also don’t fly at night or in the rain.

But, under the right conditions, McDonald points out, butterflies add a special extra touch. “For someone who has everything,” she says, “this is the thing to give them.”

I wrote this for the Pensacola News Journal and the story was picked up by several news outlets, including the Gainesville Sun, HOWEVER, they misattributed this to the AP, which it wasn’t, it was me: