Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Butterflies are Evil Creatures

Aha! I bet I got your interest with the headline.

Do I really think butterflies are evil? Of course not! Like many of you, I've dedicated a sizable chunk of my landscape to encouraging them to visit, sip a while, and lay eggs. I have larval host plants for monarch butterflies, sulfur butterflies, black swallowtails, zebra longwings and Gulf fritillaries. 

But that's where the conundrum lies. I love, love, love these flying gems, but the gardener in me is horrified by the destruction they leave in their wake.

Exhibit Number One:
A lush, robust and garishly blooming red passionvine that looked spectacular on my fence in early March due to our warm winter.

And, here it is below, two days ago. Agent Orange could not have done a better job of defoliating it than the army of Gulf fritillaries that has stripped it over the last month. At peak munch, we counted 32 caterpillars on it at one time -- and I know we missed some!

The culprit: a Gulf fritillary caterpillar,
one of dozens
Yesterday, one lone caterpillar remained, relegated to chewing on bare stems.

I know red passionvine can be horribly invasive -- I've heard horror tales of it taking over pool enclosures and even climbing over roofs -- but in my yard it never gets the chance to outgrow its allotted space. The fritillaries see to that.

The sulfurs have arrived too, and their babies have already given the cassia tree a severe pruning.
I bought more milkweed to tide over the monarchs till the remnants of the last group gluttony recover. 

And I expect the parsley I scattered in pots around the yard will soon attract the interest of the black swallowtails. I saw one feeding on angelonia blooms recently, so I know the parsley's days are short-lived.
One of last year's crop of black swallowtails on parsley. Dill and fennel are also good host plants for this species, but parsley is easiest for me to grow in our hot summers.
It's always hard for me to bear the plant mutilation. I take great pride in caring for my garden and having it look good. But I wouldn't trade the result -- the fluttering, dipping and swooping splashes of color that grace my garden when the caterpillars finally turn into perfect winged jewels that always lift my spirits.
The reward: A Gulf fritillary butterfly
Besides, the plants will recover. They always do, and pretty quickly too. And then we'll be counting caterpillars again. 


  1. What a gorgeous shot of the swallowtail cat. I'm gonna go and plant some parsley today!

    I was thinking they were evil because they keep you from getting other things done. That's my problem. I find them fascinating!

  2. They certainly do distract me, Daisy, in a good way. My husband and I made a game out of counting the fritillary cats -- it was like a scavenger hunt!

    I plant parsley in with my flowers in pots, in hopes that the swallowtails will actually leave the parsley in my tub herb garden alone so I can have some! Don't know yet if this tactic will work...
    Daisy, please send me the link to your blog so I can "follow" you and add your Blog to my list of favorites. I cannot recall the name of it right now.

    1. I'll plant the parsley just for them.

      You can find me at: http://mymaplehillfarm.blogspot.com
      See you there!

  3. I really thought they killed my passionflower last summer and cut it back really far this winter. :-( Now it's coming back but it will take a while to grow back to where it was. Slowly learning. :-)

  4. Jenny, I remember being shocked too the first time the caterpillars ate my vine to nubs. I had to remind myself that these plants are meant to be munched by caterpillars! Will cut mine back now and see how long it takes to bounce back. I have another in a different part of my yard that they can use now, though it is in part shade and the fritillaries really like the one in full sun better.

  5. I'm officially following you now, Daisy!

  6. Just think how much wonderful color all those future butterflies are going to add to your garden. It's a good thing that plants grow quickly in Florida.

  7. It sure is, Susan! The passionvine should bounce right back, especially once the summer rains start.

  8. My passion vines get totally munched too. They do come back but sometimes they don't get much of a chance to grow big enough to bloom again. I have since planted other things in front of them so when they look raggedy it doesn't matter. And, the butterflies are definitely worth it!

  9. NanaK, great strategy to huge the ugly, denuded vines with other plants.
    And you are so right. The butterflies are worth the devastation. Yesterday I saw the first zebra longwing I've seen in my yard in more than two years. AND a giant swallowtail that made me really regret that I did not buy the Dutchman's pipe vine I was eyeing at the Green Thumb Fest on Saturday.

  10. That's why I use parsley as a border plant around all my gardens.And I am always buying more.I need to start keeping a pot on the screened lanai so I can have some to eat!

  11. I'm doing the same thing, Chris! Have had a few swallowtail adults visiting but no cats yet. Parsley thrives in my garden in the summer too.