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Future Butterflies

July 9th, 2011

Last week I was at my mom’s and she mentioned that she had some yellow swallowtail caterpillars on her fennel. I had seen a few tiny caterpillars on my dill, but they were too small to tell what they were yet. I’ve been keeping my eye on them, and sure enough – they’re going to become yellow swallowtails. These caterpillars are quite striking with their lined and bright colors. They’ve been munching away on a bronze fennel plant I have growing in my front flowerbed. It’s amazing how quickly they grow!

This is one reason to include a wide variety of plants in your gardens. Fennel seems to be attractive to a lot of insects, as does milkweed. My mom has been working on establishing a nice stand of milkweed for the last 15 years and last year she was finally rewarded with monarch caterpillars on hers.

Do you have any herbs or plants that seem to attract certain insects?

18 Comments to “Future Butterflies”
  1. Kathi on July 9, 2011 at 6:02 am

    I plant about a dozen parsley plants partly because they always attract swallowtail larva. They are often eaten before I can see them hatch into butterflies,but I usually collect one for my neices and nephews,then we get to see the whole cycle. Lovely pictures! I heard fennel was a good host plant too. Maybe I will put some in our school butterfly garden The problem is school is not in session when most of the butterflies are active.

    Reply to Kathi's comment

  2. pam on July 9, 2011 at 7:57 am

    I haven’t seen any so far this year. I’ll have to check because they love my fennel plant too!

    Reply to pam's comment

  3. Allison on July 9, 2011 at 8:00 am

    I am not sure yet about my plants attracting insects. Last year I had Hysopp in my herb garden and that attracted EVERYTHING!

    I have a fennel plant I am still trying to decide where to plant it; I read that a lot of other plants don’t care for it?

    Reply to Allison's comment

  4. Rhonda on July 9, 2011 at 10:04 am

    I get these cute little guys every year, but mine are the black swallowtails. They show up on my parsley and that’s one of the reasons why I have so much but hardly ever use it. I jut like the butterflies. :-) The first year I noticed them, I took tons of photos of the caterpillars and had dreams of watching them become butterflies … I soon realized that nature had another plan and watched as one by one, my little butterfly babies became food for just about every other creature in the neighborhood. The wasps really love ’em! :-(

    Reply to Rhonda's comment

  5. Daedre Craig on July 9, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I have a number of bronze fennel plants in my garden and they also attract caterpillars.

    Reply to Daedre Craig's comment

  6. MAYBELLINE on July 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Tomatoes = hornworms

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  7. Melissa on July 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I had some on my fennel last year, haven’t seen any yet this year though. Would be nice to have a few but not so many that they munch my whole plant!

    Reply to Melissa's comment

  8. Amanda on July 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    OH NO! I just killed a three of them. I didn’t know what they were and they were eating the leaves of my potato plants! I got mad and flicked them into a cup of vinegar. Now I feel like like a killer. I don’t usually mind feeling this way, of course, if I’m flicking other little buggers of my plants. I guess I need to be more careful when it comes to possessiveness of my plant leaves and insect identification! Son of gun!!!!

    Reply to Amanda's comment

    • Susy on July 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      Sometimes plants losing leaves is good for them as it helps them weather hot dry spells better because they lose less water because they have fewer leaves. The longer I garden the more forgiving I am of all insects because I’ve found that even the “bad” ones have a purpose that we often don’t know about.

      For example: slugs feed lightening bug larvae which is why there are more lightening bugs after a wet spring with lots of slugs. If we all killed the slugs we’d have no lightening bugs.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Amanda on July 10, 2011 at 8:48 am

        A day without learning something new would be a sad day. Thanks for the wonderful reminders.

        to Amanda's comment

  9. itchbay on July 9, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Fennel is so delicious too! We have so much wild fennel along the creek that runs behind our house, I should go check it for butterfly cocoons. I’ve never seen any, but I haven’t really looked, either.

    Reply to itchbay's comment

  10. indianacraig on July 10, 2011 at 12:46 am

    Hey, just out of curiosity, have you seen any manarch butterflies yet this year? I have a great stand of milkweed, and they’re blooming, which seemed to be when they started showing up, but this year I haven’t seen one. My Mom and sister are reporting the same thing where they live. Maybe we’re just too early……just curious.

    Reply to indianacraig's comment

    • Susy on July 10, 2011 at 8:40 am

      I haven’t seen any yet either, the milkweeds are just starting to bloom here. I’ll have to ask my mom since she has them laying eggs in her garden.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  11. Lea G on July 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    so cute. i haven’t seen a real caterpillar yet. haha. can we even have butterflies as a pet? lol

    Reply to Lea G's comment

  12. Seren Dippity on July 11, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I grow fennel just for the caterpillars. I don’t love the taste myself but it is a beautiful plant and I encourage the caterpillars to stay on it instead of my dill and parsley. This year I seem to have hit a happy balance of dill, parsley and fennel because I actually have gotten to harvest some for myself! The last two years, the caterpillars ate the plants so fast that they didn’t even go to seed. That seems to be a species limiting behavior to me!

    I’ve tried and tried to get milkweed started and can’t seem to get theses to even germinate.

    I love your ability to let nature handle the bad guys but what do you do when a villain destroys your whole crop? For two years now I have had NO pumpkins or squash (summer or winter) because of squash bugs. And this year after they destroyed my squash and pumpkins they moved on to my melons…. so no cantaloupe this year. Have you ever had bugs destroy ALL of your plants?

    Reply to Seren Dippity's comment

    • Susy on July 11, 2011 at 6:32 pm

      Yes, I have lost entire crops to various insects, mostly squash. I’ve been planting squash for the past 5 years and haven’t harvested but one or two zucchini before the squash vine borers get the vines. I keep planting them because I know eventually I’ll atract a predatory insect that feeds on squash vine borers or the soil will finally be able to support plants strong enough to withstand or I’ll find a variety that pairs well with my soil/climate. I’ve also lost entire crops of broccoli & cabbage as well as peas and a few herbs. Usually when this happens I’ll plant a different variety the following year and work on improving the soil. I’m going to try to find some time to write an in depth post on why I do this. I actually have squash bugs on my cucumbers right now, but it seems this year the plants are strong enough to withstand them and there are tons of other insects around, I’m thinking some that might feast on squash bugs. We shall see as I’m not intervening in any way.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  13. Teresa on July 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    I’m so glad I didn’t pick off the ones I saw munching the bronze fennel!

    Reply to Teresa's comment

  14. Brande Plotnick on February 16, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    I have these in my garden every year on the fennel and parsley. Sadly, I think they fell victim to parasitic wasps because they just never made it. Next year, I’m going to protect them so I can see the whole cycle!

    Reply to Brande Plotnick's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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