Every fall, as the air turns cooler and the leaves begin to look like they are ready for a change, the sky is dotted with monarch butterflies. For as long as anyone can remember, they have been making this trip across the Blue Ridge Mountains, taking advantage of updrafts on their epic journey back to the Oyamel fir tree forests which are located in the eastern perimeter of the Mexican state of Michoacan.
In honor of the monarch butterfly’s annual September migration across Asheville and the surrounding region,The North Carolina Arboretum is hosting several educational events and classes. “We know that the butterflies pass through Western North Carolina on their way to Mexico every September, although we never know when they will first appear,” says George Ivey, director of public engagement for the Arboretum. “Monarch Month is all about celebrating that journey and teaching visitors about these impressive creatures.”
Inside the Education Center’s Nature Discovery Room visitors can view metamorphosis with a special pop-up monarch nursery chamber on display. Harvested eggs are placed inside the protected chamber where they transform from larvae to caterpillars to chrysalises, and ultimately hatch as adult butterflies.
The month’s activities culminate in the Arboretum’s wildly popular Monarch Butterfly Day, September 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This fun, family-friendly event includes create-and-make butterfly crafts and educational programming that focuses on monarchs’ fluctuating populations and opportunities to conserve their habitats. The highlight of the day occurs when trained Arboretum educators, in collaboration with local butterfly enthusiasts, tag and release selected adult butterflies into the wild at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The Arboretum’s tagging contributes to the body of knowledge scientists are gathering regarding the butterflies’ journey from Asheville to Texas and across the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
On Monarch Butterfly Day, the Arboretum is offering milkweed plants for purchase. Because the butterflies feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, they can’t complete their life cycle without it. Planting milkweed in home gardens helps to make up for the loss of farmland to urban and suburban development, the single biggest reason for the butterfly’s decline.