Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mission Accomplished

Last year in September I spotted a caterpillar in my carrot patch.  He looked like this.


Such a beautiful insect that I had to look it up to see what it might be.  I found out that it was the larvae of a Black Swallowtail butterfly.  These larvae particularly like to feed on plants in the carrot family, which would explain its presence in my veggies.  The funny thing is I had never seen a black swallowtail butterfly in my garden at all.  I'm not sure where this larvae came from but I intended to do something about it.  This spring, in addition to my vegetable seeds, I added parsley and dill (both in the carrot family) to my seed order.  They have grown quite lush and the dill is probably 3 or 4 feet high now.
Dill - tasty but also ornamental
Today while doing some gardening chores I noticed a very large dark butterfly flitting about the veggie garden.  I dropped what I was doing to look closer at it and was surprised to see this.

An unfortunate photo but the best I got as she just wouldn't slow down
What a beautiful butterfly.  I might not have guessed what it was but it couldn't seem to leave the dill well enough alone and I remembered.  Black Swallowtails lay their eggs on dill!  As I watched, this butterfly stopped on the dill plants again and again, dipping its tail which I assume meant it was laying eggs.  It appears I have succeeded in attracting butterflies to my garden.  I'm elated.  It's a small step but considering this space was barren lawn over a year ago I'm so excited to see insects returning.  As I watched this butterfly dip and fly it did occur to me though, what could it be feeding on?  The larvae will eat the dill but what does the butterfly eat?  Have I planted enough flowers for it to live?  I haven't seen these butterflies before now so I have to assume they're getting food elsewhere.  The next step will be to start planting flowers for feeding butterflies.  Any suggestions?

19 comments:

  1. I am happy for your butterflies, and their caterpillars. If you are are looking for flowers for those butterflies, check out a list of natives for your area.

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  2. What a thrill to have brought caterpillars and butterflies back to your garden in such a short space of time! I fully understand your joy!

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  3. Wow, how exciting! I see a fair amount of black swallowtails in my garden too. There is something almost mysterious about them, probably because of their unusual coloring.

    The feeding of butterflies is easy, most adults are indiscriminate nectar feeders. To ensure more butterflies next year, concentrate on planting host plants so they have a place to lay eggs. More butterflies are sure to follow.

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  4. Janet - good idea, I hadn't thought of native flowers but that's a good place to start.

    Christine - It really is a thrill to see the changes happening here. They're small but very significant to me.

    Debbie - thanks for the advice. I rather thought they would be specific about the flowers they sipped from but if it's just the host plants then I'll be planting an even larger patch of dill next year along with the flowers.

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  5. I am thrilled for you - a mission well worth accomplishing. Well done!

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  6. Well done! You officially have the entire life cycle in your garden and that is what it is all about for me! In addition to native plants look for plants that have blooms that are flat topped or clustered or have short flower tubes. These blooms are like a landing strip for the butterflies and they can easily get the nectar. Butterflies are also attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blooms. Another thing to consider, if you don't have already, is some place for them to rest like flat stones, bricks or bare patches of ground. They need a place to bask in the sun to warm their wings for flight.

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  7. How exciting! You're getting a thriving ecosystem going! And the butterflies are soooo beautiful! Don't the mamas drink nectar from native flowers like butterflyweed?

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  8. In addition to carrots, dill, and parsley, swallowtails love rue. Most of my caterpillars are in my rue and carrots this year.

    Plants for adult butterflies include coneflowers, rudbeckia, pentas (annual), 'Blue Fortune' agastache, yarrow, phlox, joe pye weed (they love all eupatoriums), coreopsis, salvias, liatris, zinnias, oregano (both herbal and perennial), sedum, asters, verbena bonariensis, monarda, gaura, lobelia, ironweed, mountain mint, milkweed (tuberosa and incarnata), gomphrena (annual), caryopteris, butterfly bush, heliopsis, maltese cross, nepeta. Be sure to stuff your garden with natives, too. :o)

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  9. I also find Black Swallowtails hard to photograph, they're always on the move and hardly ever perch. I hope you have even more next year.
    Heather

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  10. Marguerite I've never seen a black butterfly before, it's beautiful, I think when we see the good insects and birds enjoying our garden it makes all the hard work worth while,
    we get very few butterflies this far north I've learnt,

    I'm glad you had a good holiday,
    I find that since living here I have enjoyed my few trips to city or big town more than I ever did when I lived so close to London, Frances

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  11. It seems this butterfly and its larvae are prevalent in my garden. I see them more than any other. You will have more and more...I am sure. I am trying to learn how to build a small makeshift shelter for the larvae because the birds do get some of them.

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  12. How utterly fabulous Marguerite! Great payback for planting the right things. I'm sure your garden will soon be butterfly central, once you add more flowers for the butterflies themselves. Congratulations!

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  13. I'm feeling a bit silly today so forgive my question.

    Do the caterpillars that feed on dill get pickled?

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  14. That's wonderful Marguerite. Isn't it nice when the natives start to move in. The best way to continue playing host to them is to let nature find its way. An over abundance of aphids will soon be corrected by a plethora of parasitic wasps and ladybugs. Let even weeds flower and go to seed even in your lawn, diversity is the key. Nobody gardens in the bush or in other wild places.

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  15. Thank you Ms.S! I feel like this is a real postiive step.

    Karin - This is all such wonderful information. Thanks for your ideas. Some of the perennials I planted this year will work but I'll be keeping my eyes open for others that fit your description.

    Aagaard Farms - Butterfly weed is something I should plant! Unfortunately my property seems to have more non-native weeds than native plants.

    TS - What a fantastic list of plants!!! thank you thank you. I planted two rudbeckias last year and three echinaceas this summer but I have a long way to go. I also need to do some research on native flowering plants it appears.

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  16. Heather - I'm very excited to see how many caterpillars show up in the next month. Hopefully those babies will stick around and live in my garden as butterflies next season.

    Frances - I was surprised to see a black butterfly too. I think that's what caught my attention. When I read about them though it made sense. The black colour captures more sun and heat, warming the butterfly up. In this northern climate you need all the warmth you can get.

    Sage Butterfly - How wonderful to see these butterflies regularly. It seems you have provided all the right conditions. I could learn a thing or two from your garden.

    Thanks Janet. I have hopes that one day we'll see a number of kinds of butterflies here.

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  17. Wiseacre thank you. I've been having a small crisis this morning and needed that laugh more than anything.

    Melanie - great insight. We are letting the edges of our property regrow and native plants are starting to pop up. Hopefully in years to come our purposeful neglect will result in some wild spaces.

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  18. I once came home from an August vacation to find a completely denuded parsley plant with a fat, happy swallowtail caterpillar lounging on each stem. At the time I didn't know what they were; I thought they looked like cartoon characters or illustrations from a children's book. Their appearance provided a good welcome-home chuckle. -Jean

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  19. Jean - they are funny little caterpillar's aren't they? Such a striking colour combination you can't possibly miss them.

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