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.

Chrysalis failure and success

I think bittster was right: holes in the chrysalis aren’t good. I have given up hope that this one will emerge.

crack in chrysalis

The chrysalis is getting more and more brittle, and I can see through a small slit that there is something inside, but it doesn’t look like it’s alive.

All the close-up, watchful examination of the site did reveal a successful one nearby, though. At first I thought it might be a dragonfly exuviae (Scrabble word!), based on the ribbed appearance of the end near the stem, but I think it’s just a bit too far away from the pond for this to be likely. It has the thin threads attaching it to the stem, typical of a chrysalis. Also, it seems that exuviae generally survive more intact than this; if it was an exuviae, it has taken quite a beating.

dragonfly exuviae or spent chrysalis?

exuviae or chrysalis?

At any rate, it’s good to know that one of them made it. Wish I could have been there to see it, but maybe next time.

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.

Wildflower Wednesday: Joe Pye Weed

I am not going to win any awards for novelty with this post, but I do love Joe Pye weed.

Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium fistulosum

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) is a plant well worth growing, if you don’t already. An excellent back-of-the-border plant that blooms for months from midsummer to mid-autumn, it asks little of the gardener and provides the nectar of choice for bees and butterflies. My clump is about 6 feet tall and thoroughly sturdy, although it would be smaller if I bothered to cut it back in late spring.  Every day I pass it on my way to the mailbox, and every day it is absolutely crawling with bees. And so far, the deer have left it alone.

Gail at Clay and Limestone hosts Wildflower Wednesdays. 

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Mountain mint

I love plant swaps and gardening listservs. It’s so much fun to share plants you need to divide, and to acquire new plants to try.

This week I came into two containers of mountain mint, Pycnanthemum sp. I don’t know what species I have, but I suspect it may be Pycnanthemum muticum, or short-toothed mountain mint. It’s about 3 feet tall, with silvery, slightly serrated leaves an inch to an inch and a half long. Small, buttonlike bracts just above the leaves hold the flowers, which are white, I understand. The plant had finished flowering when I acquired it.  It smells pungently of mint–much stronger than the culinary mint I grow in containers–and is attractive to bees and butterflies. It is actually more closely related to the Monardas than the Menthas, and the resemblance between their respective leaves and bracts is quite plain.

Pycnanthemum muticum heads and bracts

Pycnanthemum muticum heads and bracts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The woman who shared it with me warned me that it might be another to keep in a container, because it took over her own backyard (classic behavior of both Menthas and Monardas). Her soil is much nicer than mine, though; fluffy and rich, if the material in the pot is anything to go by. I am wary of the possibility of swapping one assertive species for another, but I planted it in the back of the garden where the heavy rains this year have made the English ivy encroaching from the carrot lady‘s yard go berserk. The soil there is positively unimproved, so if the mountain mint shows signs of thriving, I may dig it up and replant it in a sunken container with the bottom cut out.

Bring on the butterflies and bees!