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Creating A Rainforest Under Glass

Ocean Journey’s other living collections: plants

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Feb. 21, 2005) – Creating a living forest under glass is a massive challenge, but the Tennessee Aquarium now has three such habitats: the Cove Forest and Delta Swamp galleries in the River Journey building and the Tropical Cove and Butterfly Garden in the new Ocean Journey building.

Aquarium Horticulturists Christine Bock and Charlene Nash covered new ground in designing, acquiring, planting and learning about what it takes to plan and plant for a lush tropical environment four stories above the ground.

Like any good green thumbs, their work began in an offsite greenhouse built by Aquarium maintenance staff. With two new landscapes to plan and plant for, scouting for the large tropical plants included a trip to Florida nurseries to purchase plants. The scouting also resulted in an unusual donation from Duke University.

“Some of Duke’s greenhouse plants simply had outgrown their welcome,” said Bock. “At 15-feet tall, the older trees were crowding the top of Duke’s 13-foot-high glass greenhouse.

Duke’s contributions include a 14-foot-tall fishtail palm, a 12-foot exotic flowering shrub called Bixa, a 15-foot tree with bromeliads growing in its branches and several additional rare specimens.

“The large plants give the exhibits age, height and character – elements that are difficult to create with newly purchased plants,” Nash said. “Tropical plants are exciting to horticulturists. They bloom and are colorful year round, and there are so many different varieties.”

When the rockwork was completed, soil was placed in the planters in both the Tropical Cove and the Butterfly garden. The tropical plants were transported from the greenhouse to their new home in January. A massive, 1,000-pound palm was added to the exhibit, as well as a tractor-trailer load of plants from Florida.

Bock developed the landscape blueprint for the new Butterfly Garden. The exhibit overflows with flowering plants and trees that offer nectar to hundreds of species of butterflies. She said one of her favorite areas in the exhibit to design is a display gracing the waterfall, where she has experimented with orchids.

Nash created the landscape for the Tropical Cove in the expansion. An arched gateway beckons visitors to an area filled with lush plants and trees and the enticing sounds of animal life in a tropical habitat. The 30-foot-high sunlit space includes a shoreline where visitors touch stingrays and visit with regal hyacinth macaws.

The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $17.95 per adult and $9.50 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $7.95 per adult and $5.50 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $21.95 for adults and $12.50 for children. Advance tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call 267-FISH to join.

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