Perpetual caterpillar season

I had thought the caterpillar season was over.

papilio polyxenes caterpillar on bronze fennel

As I was weeding the blue slope the other evening, I noticed tons of them on the spindly remains of my bronze fennel.

Papilio polyxenes

This is the caterpillar of the eastern black swallowtail butterfly, Papilio polyxenes. There must have been ten or so, ranging from fat ones like these to tiny ones perhaps three quarters of an inch long, on one plant alone.

caterpillars climbing

With any luck, I will have a second chance to watch a chrysalis.

Chatham County Extension Agent Debbie Roos has noticed the same phenomenon in her nearby pollinator paradise garden. By the way, she has a terrific list of butterfly- and bee-friendly plants at this site.

Anticipation

Today I noticed that holes have appeared in the swallowtail chrysalis left on my bronze fennel stalks.

butterfly chrysalis with holes

The chrysalis, which had been an electric green color earlier in the summer, now looks brown and desiccated. I hope it won’t be long before it splits open and we see a new butterfly emerge.

More swallowtails on the way

I found a swallowtail chrysalis on the bronze fennel they’ve devoured all summer.

swallowtail butterfly chrysalis

About one inch long, the length from the end of my thumb to the knuckle, it is held off the fennel stalk by two thin threads. I keep an eye on it every day.

It’s worth remembering to look carefully as you clean up the garden in late summer and early fall. I’m relieved I didn’t throw this into the compost pile. Instead, it remains at the end of my front walk, where I pass by it several times a day. Dragonflies perch above it, perhaps, like me, anticipating the big show.

blue dragonfly, species unknown

Butterfly-friendly plants

Part of the fun of sowing all these seeds is the need to plan what to do with them.

On the last day of winter vacation from school, I took the kids to the local science museum. A visit to the butterfly house–always one of my favorite spots–inspired me to dig through the seed packets and see what butterfly-friendly plants I might grow for next year.DSC_0755

Butterfly gardening is not an entirely new concept to me, but thus far I’ve preferred to plant for hummingbirds. But who can resist butterflies? It’s time to add to the mix. So I started Datura ‘Ballerina Yellow‘ and a pan of mixed hibiscus. DSC_0771

I already have plenty of rue and bronze fennel, which are terrific host plants. Amsonia, coreopsis, and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) are also ones I both own and have sown this winter. And Maryland wild senna, which will be a new one for me this year, is a primary host for butterflies from the sulphur family.

blue morpho cropped DSC_0771I’m limited in the area of my garden that receives full sun, but I’ll pepper these plants around where I can. The Joe Pye and Amsonia can go in the blue slope, the coreopsis can go on the south-side walkway, and the Maryland wild senna can go in a few different spots, to see where it will thrive.

Here’s a good primer on butterfly gardening, if you care to learn more.