In our garden the cherry plum tree with its burgundy foliage has sustained the most damage. The upper branches are covered by skeletal leaves which show only an outline of veins. A large number of these leaves are now falling although they will be replaced with new ones if we get a decent amount of rain. Soon the female Japanese beetle will lay its eggs underground and the adult population will die off, which never comes a minute too soon in my book.
Meanwhile I am watching the population of another insect with interest. Each year I plant parsley in my garden as food (the host plant) for the offspring of the black swallowtail butterfly. Normally these plants are interspersed in my garden, but last year a groundhog took a liking to the parsley and ate it down to the ground time and time again. However, I have a large basket for growing a vegetable or two next to the front door up a couple of steps from ground level and no groundhog has discovered it yet. This year I put two sweet peppers in the basket along with four or five parsley plants. Because of the cooler weather during most of spring it took a while for the plants to take off, but by now we have enjoyed the first peppers and the parsley has grown into substantial plants. About two weeks ago the first black swallowtail butterfly discovered the plants and laid her eggs. They hatched about 9 days later and soon 18 eating machines were busily munching away at the parsley. By now they have grown into substantial caterpillars and soon they will be spinning their chrysalis and make the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. It won’t come a moment too soon either as most of the parsley is gone and the plant will need some time to recuperate before it can host another batch of caterpillars.
In another container in the backyard my bronze fennel, also host plant to the black swallowtail butterfly, has been discovered and I expect to see the first tiny caterpillars on this plant as well. Last year’s bronze fennel was kept in a large pot on the edge of the pond and my resident frog used it as its own personal larder. A daily visit by the frog reduced the amount of caterpillars until only one or two survived way up high in the plant and made the transition into chrysalis to butterfly. This time it will be harder, although not impossible for the frog, to find these caterpillars in their large planter and I hope to produce a bumper crop of black swallow tail butterflies.
I wonder what my dad would think if he knew I grow host plants for caterpillars so I could enjoy the butterflies. Decades ago, as dad tended to his cabbage plants, each egg packet and all caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly were carefully destroyed to maximize yield on these vegetables. Of course the cabbage white butterfly is not nearly as impressive as the black swallowtail butterfly. Somehow, deep down in my heart I think he might be looking down upon me and the garden, its creatures within and giving it a silent nod.
Two days pass and I come home from a quick shopping trip. Out of the corner of my eye I see something dropping/falling out of the basket at the front door. Upon closer inspection I see a very satisfied frog sitting right next to the basket. As this point there are only a few large caterpillars left on the parsley.
Who would have thought this frog would hop up six steps to check out the basket with peppers and parsley and discover a new food source? Meanwhile 4 caterpillars have matured to the point they started looking for a safe place to spin their chrysalis and make the metamorphosis to butterfly.
These four are now safely cocooned on either side of the front door, giving me a perfect spot to watch them when they are ready to emerge as butterflies.