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Earth Day Fun: Create Monarch Butterfly Way Stations

4/18/2013 3:46:14 PM

The Tennessee Aquarium is urging homeowners to consider creating way stations for monarch butterflies for Earth Day 2013.

A monarch butterfly visits the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater last fall en route to Mexico.
Above: A “super-generation” monarch stopped by the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater Garden last fall en route to Mexico.

Milkweed and pentas are great plants for monarch way stations.

Planting milkweed (foreground) and pentas, a nectar producing perennial, (background) help bolster monarch butterfly populations.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                Contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3007

Earth Day Activity: Decorate Your Yard With Butterflies
Monarch Way Stations Improve Migratory “Super-Flyways”

Chattanooga, Tenn. (April 18, 2013) – You hear giggling and see outstretched arms as the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Theater appears to fill with monarchs during each screening of Flight of the Butterflies 3D. Audiences find themselves rooting for these amazing insects as they embark on one of the most amazing migrations on the planet.

For years, no one knew where monarchs went in the winter. But one man’s childhood fascination with these butterflies led to a new branch of citizen scientists who helped solve this mystery of nature. The moment of discovery was documented by a National Geographic photographer and is just as thrilling when retold on the giant screen at IMAX. Hundreds of millions of butterflies turn forests, high in the mountains of Mexico, orange and black. The images are unforgettable and the audio of their flapping wings makes you feel as though you are in the middle of this incredible gathering of life.

As visually stunning as these scenes are today, the numbers of butterflies are declining. It’s been estimated that one billion monarchs gathered each year in the Mexican sanctuaries at the time of their discovery in 1976. Since then, that number has been cut in half. The decline is due in large part to habitat loss along their migratory path – much of which lies in the United States. Open spaces with large fields of milkweed and nectar producing plants are disappearing, making the flight of the monarchs more challenging each year. According to, 2.2 million acres of milkweeds and nectar sources are being developed in the U.S. each year.

To offset these losses, the Tennessee Aquarium and Creative Discovery Museum are adding milkweed to butterfly gardens in downtown Chattanooga and encouraging others to dedicate a yard of your yard to butterflies on Earth Day, Monday, April 22. “We encourage everyone to consider adding both milkweed and nectar producing plants when making landscape choices this year,” said Christine Bock, the Aquarium’s lead horticulturist. “Homeowners will get the added benefit of attracting butterflies while helping monarchs specifically in their epic journey.”

Milkweeds will be added to butterfly way stations at the IMAX Theater’s certified garden, the butterfly garden located between the Aquarium’s two buildings and on the Creative Discovery Museum’s rooftop garden. Each plot helps create a patchwork quilt of resources necessary for monarchs. Without these additional resources, monarchs wouldn’t be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the single, incredible migration featured in Flight of the Butterflies 3D.

Aquarium butterfly experts Bill Haley and Jennifer Taylor offer these tips for homeowners:

- Dedicate a yard of your yard to butterflies. While a green lawn may be attractive to us, it can resemble a desert to a butterfly, with no places to land, no nectar and no food sources for caterpillars. 

- If you don’t have room in your yard, butterfly nectar and host plants can be grown in containers on your deck.

- Pick a nice sunny spot for your butterfly garden. Your flowers will love it and the butterflies will be more likely to visit.

- Monarchs require milkweeds for their caterpillars. Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, is in the milkweed family. It is a perennial that comes back year after year, only grows to around one foot tall and forms nice compact clumps without taking over your whole garden. It is drought tolerant and has gorgeous orange blooms.

Learn more at a monarch way station program offered by the Aquarium on Sunday, May 5 from 2 to 4:00 pm. Discover the fascinating behavior of the Monarch from butterfly expert and Earth Kinship educator Wanda DeWaard. Go on a guided butterfly walk at the Tennessee River Gardens and learn to create a monarch way station with a milkweed plant to take home. Register online


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