Friend or Foe? A Wise Gardener Knows

August 8th, 2012 § 1

 Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) on Wild Carrot (Dacus carota)

Fear can lead people to do foolish things. Human beings have an tendency to fear and strike out at things they do not know. At a certain level, fear is important to our survival. The human fight or flight response was designed to protect us, and it’s a great instinct —until it isn’t. Sometimes, someone who appears to be an enemy, is actually a friend in disguise… And no one wants to hurt a friend, right? Right.

A Slightly Younger Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar is Shown Here, Feeding Upon the Same Queen Anne’s Lace as the One Pictured Above

In the garden —as elsewhere in life— sometimes allies are mistaken for enemies. Take the Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), for example. In its larval phase, the colorful caterpillar (pictured above, munching wild carrot foliage), feeds mainly upon the leaves and stems of plants in the Apiacea family; including vegetables and herbs like carrots, dill, parsley and fennel. In its early stage of life, some gardener’s refer to the Black Swallowtail as a “parsley worm”, and consider it a pest. Yet when mature, this voracious eater morphs into a beautiful, nectar-sipping butterfly. Moving from flower to flower —carrying golden dust on their legs, wings and bodies—Black Swallowtail Butterflies become important pollinators as adults; ironically serving the very plants they enjoy consuming in their youth. Instead of killing “parsley worms”, I recommend covering vulnerable crops with Reemay Cloth or —if your garden is small— remove caterpillars by hand and place them on wild alternatives (they emit an unpleasant odor as a form of defense, so wear gloves or just wash your hands!). Some gardeners —including this one— actually plant ornamental carrots and dill for the purpose of attracting beneficial insects. A few minor inconveniences rarely bother organic gardeners and lovers of natural beauty. After all, isn’t the creation of a welcoming, butterfly habitat  a wonderful thing? Learn more about the Black Swallowtail Butterfly at ButterliesandMoths.Org, by clicking here.

Welcome to My Garden! Creating a Pollinator-Friendly Habitat Encourages a Healthy, Diverse Ecosystem. Set a Good Example by Becoming a Friendly Member of  Earth’s Community: Swing Your Gate Open to New Friends! Pollinator Favorites: Queen Anne’s Lace and Goldenrod (Daucus carota and Solidago)

So how do you know if you’ve spotted a friend or an enemy in the garden?  If something seems unfamiliar, it’s always a good idea to do a bit of research before impulsively squashing it. Of course, you can try asking an experienced neighbor, but if all else fails, the internet is always standing by! Some of the best insect identification resources I’ve found are free and readily available online; including Identification.Org and BugGuide.Net. For butterfly identification specifically —including the all-important larval stage— I like ButterfliesandMoths.org.  Basic entomological skills (the study of insects) are important to all gardeners. I recommend the books below —Good Bug Bad Bug  &  Garden Insects of North America—  for ease of use and comprehensive coverage, respectively. For more insect identification and organic pest control resources, visit the Library page by clicking here.

Jessica Walliser’s easy to use, Good Bug Bad Bug

Whitney Cranshaw’s comprehensive guide,  Garden Insects of North America

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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