Monarch Butterfly Day at The N.C. Arboretum

TAG TEAM: Educators at The N.C. Arboretum will attach numbered tags to monarch butterflies and release them into the wild for their annual migration to Mexico during the Sept. 28 Monarch Butterfly Day. Scientists use the tags to gather information about the insects' journey. Photo courtesy of The N.C. Arboretum

September is the month of monarchs in Western North Carolina. Every year at this time, North America’s East Coast population of monarch butterflies passes through the area en route to their winter home in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains. In celebration of this milkweed-dependent pollinator and its unique journey, The North Carolina Arboretum hosts several weeks of Monarch Month events, classes and exhibits each September, culminating with Monarch Butterfly Day.

Scheduled this year for Saturday, Sept. 28, Monarch Butterfly Day is family friendly, with take-home butterfly crafts and educational demonstrations and exhibits from Bee City Hendersonville, Bee City Asheville and Asheville GreenWorks, says Jonathan Marchal, arboretum youth education manager. Children ages 5-13 who register in the Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORERS program prior to the event (sign up at ecoexplore.net) can participate in a free workshop during which they can view all stages of the monarch life cycle, learn about the butterfly’s life-or-death connection to the milkweed plant and explore one of the garden’s milkweed plots to hunt for eggs and caterpillars. Sessions are 10-11:30 a.m. and 2-3:30 p.m.; preregistration is required (ecoexplore@ncarboretum.org).

Adults can preregister for the Build a Better Monarch Garden class, which runs 10 a.m.-noon ($34 arboretum members/$39 nonmembers; preregister at avl.mx/6iy). Landscape entomologist Adam Baker will discuss how backyard gardeners can help with the conservation of monarchs and other endangered pollinators, covering topics such as current conservation efforts, milkweed varieties, citizen scientist involvement and more.

All ages can watch at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. as arboretum educators and a few members of the ecoEXPLORE program tag the wings of adult butterflies with tiny stickers and release them into the wild. The tag numbers and other information will be recorded with conservation organization Monarch Watch. “When someone finds a butterfly with a tag either along the way to Mexico or in Mexico, they can upload the tag number so that scientists can learn more about their migration routes,” explains Marchal.

The butterflies to be released were collected as eggs in the wild by Kim Bailey of Milkweed Meadows Farm in Henderson County, then raised in captivity at the arboretum, he says, noting that Bailey’s farm is also the source of the milkweed grown at the arboretum. Several species of milkweed plants will be offered for sale during the event — look for bright orange, sun-loving butterfly weed; pink-flowered, wet soil-tolerant swamp milkweed; and the tall, quick-spreading common milkweed, among the many varieties. Plants cost $6 each or five for $20 with proceeds benefiting the arboretum’s youth education programming.

WHAT: Monarch Butterfly Day
WHERE: The N.C. Arboretum, 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way, ncarboretum.org
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28; general admission is free, parking for nonmembers is $14 per vehicle

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About Gina Smith
Gina Smith is the Mountain Xpress Food section editor and writer. She can be reached at gsmith@mountainx.com.

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