Nearly a decade ago, a monarch butterfly flew south for the winter to San Antonio Botanical Garden. But only after taking a flight from upstate New York.

In September 2012, Maraleen Manos-Jones noticed a monarch caterpillar forming its chrysalis, a hard outer case that protects the insect during its transition into a butterfly, in her garden. As time went on, she grew concerned that this particular caterpillar was delayed in its formation, about two weeks behind the rest of the bunch. Once the caterpillar transformed in late October, during a cold snap in upstate New York, Manos-Jones knew she needed some help in saving this butterfly.

Maraleen Manos-Jones arrives with a wayward Monarch female butterfly (inside the Igloo carry on) at the San Antonio International Airport on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. Manos-Jones first found the lone specimen late September in her butterfly garden near Albany, New York. Southwest Airlines donated the ticket that allowed Manos-Jones to bring the butterfly to San Antonio, allowing it to catch up with migrating Monarch on their way to breeding grounds in Michoacan, Mexico.

Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News

That’s when she called Southwest Airlines.

Manos-Jones, nicknamed the “Butterfly Lady” given that she’s written a book on the insect, reached out to the Dallas-based airline to ask for a favor: Would they help transport the unnamed butterfly to a place with warmer temperatures, a place where the butterfly would be able to safely depart for its destination in a Mexican mountain range?

Enter the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

Together, the Texas company and San Antonio nonprofit made headlines, grabbing readers’ attention for the quirky mission of saving a butterfly via a 1,950-mile airplane ride. Manos-Jones and the butterfly departed Albany, where it was 32 degrees, for the Alamo City, where the New Yorker had to deal with temperatures in the mid-80s, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Southwest covered the cost of the flight for Manos-Jones, and even had someone join her to record the journey.

Maraleen Manos-Jones, right, known as the "Butterfly Lady", and Monika Maeckle releases a monarch at the San Antonio Botanical Garden that had lost its way in Albany.

Maraleen Manos-Jones, right, known as the “Butterfly Lady”, and Monika Maeckle releases a monarch at the San Antonio Botanical Garden that had lost its way in Albany.

Bob Owen/San Antonio Express-News

Naturally, the release of the butterfly, which drew a sizable crowd following its headline-grabbing butterflight, was also filmed.

Though no one at the San Antonio Botanical Garden at the time of the quirky mission is still at the nonprofit today, Emily Knapp, director of marketing, says the garden stays committed to conservation efforts.

“We play a role in conserving 13 endangered plants native to South Texas,” Knapp says.

While the Botanical Garden does plenty of work on its own, Knapp says the nonprofit’s partnership with the San Antonio Water System, better known as SAWS, has resulted in two display areas on the grounds where visitors can see water preservation efforts. In the WaterSaver Garden, visitors can learn about plants that don’t require a lot of water. At WaterSaver Lane, made up of small cottages, visitors can learn about drought-resistant landscaping options and other habitats for wildlife.

In addition to conservation, the garden’s mission is to connect people with plants and nature, something that has increased in the past year. Knapp says the garden has seen more visitors and more than doubled its membership since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We’re one of the few places people could safely enjoy,” Knapp says.

Maraleen Manos-Jones released this monarch at the San Antonio Botanical Garden on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012.

Maraleen Manos-Jones released this monarch at the San Antonio Botanical Garden on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012.

Bob Owen/San Antonio Express-News

Now that more people are visiting the garden more often, she hopes San Antonians will help support the organization in its mission.

“People might think of the botanical garden as a place to look at beautiful plants, but we offer many different experiences here as well,” Knapp says.

Though Knapp describes the garden’s assistance in the butterflight as a one-off situation, the nonprofit offers tips on how to attract and assist butterflies in their life cycles. You can find out more here.