Going Buggy: Let’s Talk About Tussock Moth Caterpillars

September 2nd, 2018 § 4 comments § permalink

On the Left, Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae), and on the Right, White-Marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Orgyia leucostigma)

Suddenly, it’s September, and everywhere I look, there are hints of a changing season. One of the first autumnal signs I’ve noticed this year is the appearance of fuzzy, colorful, and boldly-patterned Tussock Moth caterpillars. Although these hungry little critters do tend to skeletonize the foliage of certain trees, and sometimes, during large infestations, they can cause trouble with crop trees, their late-season noshing is usually a minor aesthetic issue, (Hickory Tussocks mainly munch deciduous elm, ash, oak, willow, nut and of course, hickory trees, while White-Marked Tussocks and Definite Tussock Moths, usually prefer apple, birch, elm, maple, cherry and sometimes conifers such as balsam fir and larch).  However, the black and white, Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae, pictured atop, at left), has recently caught some bad press as a “venomous caterpillar”. So, what’s the scoop?

The Definite Tussock Moth (Orgyia definita), is Easy to ID with its Yellow Head and Body, Black spots and White-Blond Hairs. 

Indeed, the spines of many Tussocks –including, but not limited to the black and white, Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar— do contain a venom to ward off predators. When handled, this venom can rub off on the skin, sometimes causing a red, stinging, itchy rash. For most people, the reaction is mild, and can be treated with ice and over-the-counter rash medication, however some individuals –particularly children and adults with sensitive skin– will experience more discomfort than others. For this reason, it’s best to avoid handling all Tussock Moth Caterpillars, unless wearing gloves. Most wild creatures do prefer to be left alone, so I try to simply observe and enjoy insects, and all other wild things, from a respectful distance, without touching or disturbing them at all.

For more information about Tussock Moths and their Caterpillars, visit BugGuide.net or MothAndCaterpillars.org.

Look, But Don’t Touch! Some People Experience Allergic Reaction to Tussock Moth Caterpillar Venom. Avoiding Contact is the Best Defense. Most Creatures Prefer Not to be Handled Anyway. 

Article and Photography copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Friend or Foe? A Wise Gardener Knows

August 8th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

 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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In Praise of the Poetic Papillon: Attracting Butterflies, Moths & Other Pollinators to the Garden…

June 4th, 2012 § Comments Off on In Praise of the Poetic Papillon: Attracting Butterflies, Moths & Other Pollinators to the Garden… § permalink

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) in My Wildflower Meadow, Visiting Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on Lilac Blossoms (Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ ) in My Garden- Read More About This Lovely Butterfly in My Previous Post by Clicking Here.

Fritillary on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)Read More About This Native Butterfly Magnet by Clicking Here

Is there anything more magical than the first butterfly sighting of the year? Much as I delight in the beauty of horticulture, I must admit that even the most spectacular of flowers pales in comparison to the poetic papillon. And what gardener wouldn’t want to work surrounded by butterflies dancing on the wind? I can’t imagine a more delightful way to spend my days. Of course butterflies are more than just pretty, and while bees are recognized as the most effective pollinators of food crops, butterflies also perform an important role in the pollination of flowers. As this fascinating insect moves within each blossom —gathering nectar with its long, curled proboscis— the butterfly’s entire body —legs, head and wings— acts as magnet for dusty pollen, which is redistributed as it moves from one part of the flower to another; from blossom to blossom and plant to plant.

Watching beautiful butterflies and moths while they work their magic within flowers is easy, but for many gardeners it’s harder to appreciate these insects when they begin their lives as voracious caterpillars. Butterflies and moths undergo a complex life cycle from eggs to caterpillars, followed by metamorphosis to moths and butterflies. As gardeners, it’s important that we become familiar with the changing appearance of moths and butterflies in order to protect these insects in all of their life stages. Butterfly and moth caterpillars all eat plant foliage, and one of the keys to creating a healthy habitat for butterflies, is learning to accept less-than-perfect-looking plants. Avoid the indiscriminate use of all pesticides —including organic solutions like insecticidal soap and Btk— in order to protect young butterflies and moths. Spray only when you absolutely must, and be sure that you can properly identify an insect before pulling out the pesticide…

The Bold Pattern and Bright Colors of the Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danus plexippus) Make it Easy to Recognize as It Feasts on the Leaves of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Learning to Accept and Tolerate Less-than-Perfect-Looking Plants is Key to Creating Healthy Habitat for Pollinators. In Addition to Adopting a More Tolerant Attitude Toward Chew-Marks, Provide Habitat in the Form of Wildflower/Wild Plant Areas. By Studying the Preferences of Butterflies, Soon You Will Come to See “Scrubby” Understory and Meadow Areas as Beautiful…

Later in Summer, the Adult Monarch Butterfly (Danus plexippus) Emerges from It’s Cocoon and Lights on Potted Butterfly Weed (Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Red’) in My garden.

Pretty Impersonator: The Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) Lighting on Straw in My Potager Looks a Great Deal Like the Monarch Above, But It’s Actually a Different, Smaller Butterfly. Even the Viceroy Caterpillar Looks Quite Similar to the Monarch. Read More About and See More Photos of the Viceroy and other Species at the Incredible Butterflies and Moths Website by Clicking Here

As you begin to familiarize yourself with the caterpillars, butterflies and moths visiting your garden, you may notice that while they enjoy many plants and flowers, they are definitely more interested in certain species than others. Providing a continuous supply of food and fresh water —be sure to provide butterflies with a safe “island” such as a stick or other place to light to prevent drowning in water features— from early spring through late fall  —for both caterpillars, butterflies and moths— is the best way to attract and keep these lovely creatures in your garden. But it’s just as essential to consider the “big picture” of your landscape and neighborhood. Instead of viewing natural areas as “unkempt”, try thinking of them from the butterfly’s point of view. Understory shrubs, trees and wild grasses provide essential habitat for caterpillars and migratory butterflies. Wildflower meadows, swamps and emerging forests with tangled stands of birch and poplar trees are prime real estate for egg-laying butterflies. Consider the consequences before you mow in the name of “necessary” maintenance. Before you cut, ask yourself how much manicured space you really need.

Caterpillars rely upon the foliage of many native, deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, as well as herbaceous plants for sustenance. In addition to protecting natural areas, try planting some caterpillar favorites in your landscape. While each species has its own preferences, some of the most important larval hosts for moths and butterflies include the following native trees and shrubs (this list is by no means complete and is limited to North American plants), many of which also provide beautiful and beneficial flowers and/or fruits: Amelanchier (Serviceberry), Asimina (Paw Paw), Betula (Birch), Carya (Hickory), Carpinus caroliniana (American Hornbeam), Cassiope (Mountain Heather), Castanea (Chestnut), Ceanothus (California Lilac), Celtis (Hackberry), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Fagus grandifolia (American Beech), Fraxinus (Ash), Juglans (Walnut), Juniperus (Juniper), Malus (Crabapple), Pinus (Pine), Populus (Poplar), Prunus (Cherry and Plum), Quercus (Oak), Sassafras albidium (Sassafras), Ulmus (Elm), Arctostaphylos (Bearberry), Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), Myrica (Bayberry), Potentilla fruiticosa (Cinquefoil), Rhus (Sumac), Ribes (Gooseberry/Current), Salix (Willow), Sambucus (Elderberry), Vaccinium (Blueberry) and Viburnum.

The Hummingbird Moth is a Member of the Sphingidae Family, Which Includes Hawk Moths, Sphinx Moths and Hornworms. The Hummingbird Hawk Moth, A Beautiful and Important Pollinator, Begins Life as Large, Green, Very-Hungry Caterpillar; Related to the Tomato Hornworm. If the Hummingbird Moth Appeals to You, Learn to Protect and Provide for Its Curious Caterpillar (Many Feed Upon the Leaves of Shrubs and Trees). The Hummingbird Moth Above (Hemaris thysbe ) was Photographed on Fragrant Abelia (Click Here for More on Abelia mosanensis). This Fantastic Flier Visits Many of the Same Flowers as Butterflies, Bees and True Hummingbirds. Learn More About the Hummingbird Moth by Clicking Here. 

North American, Native Amsonia illustris Attracts Hummingbird Moths, Butterflies and Bees. It’s Also A Beautiful Garden Plant, Offering Clear-Blue Blossoms in May, Fine-Textured Foliage Throughout Summer, and Clear, Golden Autumn Foliage. This Lovely Native —and Other Bluestar Species; Including Amsonia hubrichtii and A. tabernaemontana— are Frequently Featured Here as Fall Foliage Superstars.

Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) Gathering Nectar from Amsonia Blossoms. Read More About Hummingbird Moths by Clicking Here.

As adults, butterflies and moths are most attracted to cluster-flowers. In my previous posts on butterflies —including a post on my visit to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory with tips for attracting butterflies to gardens and an article on the top three plants for butterflies— many of these annual and perennial flowers are included. Mosy butterfly flower lists include Asclepias (Milkweed/Butterflyweed family); one of the most important, cluster-flowered, native butterfly plants. In addition to the non-native species listed in my previous posts, linked above —such as Verbena bonariensis and Butterfly Bush* (Buddleia davidii, *which is considered an invasive plant in some areas of North America, and therefore restricted)— there are many more, beautiful North American wildflowers and native, garden-worthy plants for pollinators.

Some of the best perennial wildflower choices for attracting butterflies and moths include the following: Actaea simplex (Cimicifuga/Fairy Candles/Black Cohash), Agastache (Wild Hyssop), Allium (Wild Onion), Amsonia (Bluestar, pictured above), Aruncus dioicus (Goat’s Beard), Ascelepias (Milkweed/Butterflyweed), Asters, Baptisia (Wild Indigo), Boltonia (False Aster), Campanula (Harebell), Castilleja (Paintbrush), Chelone (Turtle Head), Coreopsis (Tickseed), Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower), Epilobium (North Americn Native Fireweed), Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Filipendula rubra (Queen of the Prairie), Gaillardia (Blanket Flower), Gaura, Geranium (Wild Geranium and cultivars), Helenium autumnal (Sneezeweed), Helianthus (Sunflower), Heliopsis (Oxeye), Hibiscus, Liatris (Blazing Star), Lilium (Lily), Lobelia, Lupinus (Lupine), Monarda (Beebalm/Bergamot), Penstemon (Beard’s Tongue), Phlox, Physostegia virginiana (False Dragonhead), Polemonium (Jacob’s Ladder), Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal), Rudbeckia (Coneflower/Black-Eyed Susan), Salvia (Sage), Sedum (Stonecrop), Solidago (Goldenrod), Tiarella (Foam Flower), Verbena, Veronia (Ironweed), Viola (Violets), and Yucca (Soapweed).

In addition to providing perennial flowers, plant cluster-flowering annuals in garden beds and containers to maintain a steady supply of nectar for butterflies and moths…

Cluster Flowers are Particularly Attractive to Butterflies. Pictured Here is Asclepias tuberosa, Native, North American  Butterfly Weed. (Read More Here). Try Supplementing Perennial Cluster Flowers with Those of Annual Plants like Verbena bonariensis.

Plants Blooming at the Beginning of the Continuum —Very Early Spring, When Food Supplies are Limited— are of Great Importance to Returning PollinatorsNorth American Native Labrador Violet is a April/May-Blooming, Early Butterfly Favorite. Read More About this Fantastic, Ground-Cover for Shady Places by Clicking Here.

Later On in the Year, Mid-Late Season Flowers Provide and Important Source of Sustenance to Butterflies and Moths as They Emerge from Their Cocoons. Many Gardeners Shop for Plants in Late May and Early June, Purchasing Plants Like Peonies and Roses. Lovely as the May/June Bloomers are, to Attract and Keep Butterflies, the Gardener Must Provide Season-Spanning Bloom. Later-Season Flowers like the Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) —pictured above in my wildflower walk above— as well as Echinacea, Sedum, Eupatorium, Actaea simplex, Solidago, Helenium and Asters are Key to Providing a Steady Supply of Nectar for Butterflies. Read More About Oli’s (My Dog) Accidental Wildflower Walk, by Clicking Here.

In addition to providing habitat and caterpillar forage, flowering trees and shrubs also provide sustenance to adult pollinators of all kinds. Again, butterflies and moths are particularly attracted to cluster-flowering species, including many fruit and berry producing plants. Some of the best North American natives, “nativars” and hybrids in this group include the following: Aesculus and A. parviflora (Buckeye Trees and Bottlebrush Buckeye shrub), Arctostaphylos (Bearberry), Callicarpa (Beautyberry), Castanea (Chestnut), Clethra (Sweet Pepperbush/Summersweet, pictured below), Cornus (Dogwood trees and shrubs), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Diervilla lonicera (Native Bush Honeysuckle), Diospyros (Persimmon), Gleditsia triacanthos (Honeylocust), Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky Coffeetree), Fothergilla (Witch Alder, pictured below), Halesia (Silverbell), Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), Hydrangea (Wild and Cultivated),  Hypericum (St. John’s Wort), Ilex (Holly), Itea virginica (Virginia Sweetspire), Kalmia (Mt. Laurel), Leucothoe, Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), Malus (Apple), Nyssa (Tupelo), Philadelphus (Mock Orange), Physocarpus opulifolius (Eastern Ninebark), Pieris (Andromeda), Potentilla fruiticosa (Cinquefoil), Prunus (Cherry and Plum), Rhododendron (Azalea), Rhus (Sumac), Rubus (Raspberry/Blackberry), Salix (Willow), Sassafras, Sambucus (Elderberry), Sorbus (Mountain Ash), Spirea alba (Meadowsweet), Stewartia, Styrax (Snowbell), Ulmus (Elm), Vaccinium (Blueberry/Cranberry), and my favorite, Viburnum…

Perfect for Early-Season Pollinators (April/May) and Late-Season Color (October/November), North American, Native Fothergilla (Pictured here: Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) is One of My Favorite Plants. Read More by Clicking Here. For Smaller Gardens, Consider Dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii and the Fabulous Blue-Leaf Cultivar F. g. ‘Blue Shadow’)

Horse Chestnut Blossoms are Popular with Butterflies, Moths, Hummingbirds and Bumblebees. Read More About this Gorgeous Cultivar ‘Ft. McNair’ by Clicking Here

Wonderfully Fragrant, Late-Season Bloom and Gorgeous, Golden Fall Foliage Make Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet/Sweet Pepperbush) a Favorite withBees, Hummingbirds, Moths, Late-Season Butterflies and Knowledgable Gardeners, Alike. Such Beauty in July/August Makes Up for Her Scruffy, Springtime Appearance. She’s a Bit of a Late Sleeper, That’s All! Read More About the Wonderful, Native Clethra alnifolia by Clicking Here

For more information about butterflies and moths, including ID keys, I suggest visiting the Butterflies and Moths website, butterfliesandmoths.org, by clicking here. For more information about wildflowers and other native plants, check out some of the resources in this post. And to learn more about gardening with butterflies in mind, check out some of the books below at your local library, bookstore, or linked online source.

Enjoy the beauty of the poetic papillon and help protect their future!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ in My Vermont Garden. Click Here for More Information on the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.

Sally Roth’s Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard 

Allan Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

William Cullina’s Wildflowers

Watch the Complete Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly by Clicking the Link Above. A Duncan Scott Film Produced for the Chicago Nature Museum in Chicago, IL (If You Have Trouble Viewing the Video, Click on This Direct YouTube Link). Film Copyright Duncan Scott, All Rights Reserved.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, 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. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Notes on Nature’s Bold Artistry: Brilliant, Blooming Butterfly Weed & Her Colorfully Patterned, Wild Guests …

July 9th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Asclepias tuberosa – Our Beautiful, Native Butterfly Weed Catches the Golden Light of Summertime Along the Wildflower Walk

In search of inspiration for your next creative project; pattern, form or color play? Sometimes, you needn’t look further for fresh ideas than your own backyard! While out admiring the blooming butterfly weed in my Wildflower Walk yesterday, I happened to notice five examples of nature’s bold artistry on one garden plant. Asclepias tuberosa —as our North American, native butterfly weed is known in the botanical world— blooms in beautiful clusters of bright, citrus-punch orange. The tiny, nectar-loaded blossoms are popular with pollinators of all kinds; including bees, butterflies —like the fritillary pictured below— and hummingbirds. But other parts of this plant serve important purposes to wildlife as well. The leaves and stems of both butterfly weed and milkweed  —filled with sticky sap— provide sustenance to butterfly caterpillars; including the boldly striped larvae of the beautiful Monarch Butterfly. Asclepias sap is toxic to many of this caterpillar’s predators, providing the insect with natural defense. Small Milkweed Bugs —colored in bold red and black patterns— also look to Asclepias species for food; feeding upon the seed of this important native plant. Lady luck must have been walking with me yesterday as I strolled through the garden, because I happened upon not only eye-popping, orange blossoms, but wild black & yellow stripes and bold, modernist patterns all on one plant … talk about artistic inspiration!

A Bumble Bee and Fritillary Butterfly Share the Same Dining Table at Their Local Asclepias tuberosa

Last summer, I featured this beautiful, long-blooming summertime flower  —Asclepias tuberosa—  in a plant profile. You can view additonal photos of butterfly weed in flower, and find more about this wonderful garden-worthy member of the milkweed family, by clicking back to that profile post here.

A Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danus plexippus) in my garden, munches on its favorite host-plant:  Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed). I am more than happy to plant plenty of flowers for both of us!

Yellow and Black on Orange: Another Beautiful & Colorful Guest, the North American Native Bumble Bee, Visits Asclepias tuberosa in Search of Sustenance 

And on the same plant, a Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) scurries about beneath the leaves. This brightly colored bug feeds upon the seeds of milkweed and butterfly weed. Because milkweed is considered an agricultural weed, this insect is often regarded as a beneficial

Fritillary Butterflies Flock to the Nectar in Asclepias tuberosa – No Wonder It’s Commonly Called Butterfly Weed!

Asclepias tuberosa makes a great garden plant: pictured here along the Wildflower Walk with Amsonia hubrichitii, Asters, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ and Clethra Alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’. Try it in combination with blue and violet flowers for a bold contrast. Or cool things off with a bit of silver, and white!

To read more about Asclepias tuberosa and its cultural preferences click here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, 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. Thank you!

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Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies…

May 30th, 2011 § Comments Off on Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies… § permalink

A Perfect Spot for Sampling Lilac Nectar – An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’

Sunshine at last! Finally, after weeks of rain and fog, golden light returned to the garden this week. And suddenly, the sultry air is filled with Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies —bright as the sun itself— fluttering about blossoming trees, shrubs and perennials; looking for a place to rest and a sample of sweet nectar. Here in my garden, the voluptuous French white lilacs —Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’— seem to be the flavor of the week.

Papillon. Poetry in Motion…

Thank you, sweet papillon, for pausing to show off your bright, beautiful colors


More Information on the Tiger Swallowtail, and How to Attract this Beauty to Your Garden

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is commonly found at the edge of North American deciduous forests from early-mid spring through autumn. Adult females lay their eggs on host plants; including Ash (Fraxinius), Basswood (Tilia), Birch (Betula), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Lilac (Syringa), Mountain Ash (Sorbus), Poplar (Populus), Sweetbay (Magnolia) and Tulip Trees (Lirodendron). When caterpillars emerge, they hungrily eat their way through foliage, pupate and re-emerge as beautiful butterflies. The entire process takes little more than a month. In springtime, adult swallowtails feed on the nectar of flowers —particularly those forming clusters— such as lilac (Syringa), wild cherry trees (Prunus serotina), phlox, daphne, abelia, and viburnum. Later in the season, they feast upon the nectar of verbena (particularly Verbena bonariensis), butterflyweed and milkweed (Aesclepias), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), asters, stonecrop (Sedum), butterflybush (Buddleja species*), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), bee balm (Monarda), phlox, heliotrope, pincushion flower (Scabiosa), Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), gayflower (Liatris), and many other cultivated trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wildflowers. Provide a continuous supply of flowers and caterpillar host plants throughout the growing season to keep swallowtail butterflies in your neighborhood.

Sadly, a large number of butterflies are inadvertently killed each year —particularly as caterpillars— through the use of pesticides. Even organic methods of pest control can be harmful to beneficial insects, and should only be used in a targeted manner. Although Btk is an organically approved pesticide (made from a bacterium found naturally in soils), commonly and safely used to control harmful worms, it will kill beneficial caterpillars if used indiscriminately. So please, use organic pest controls sparingly, and with great caution. Familiarize yourself with all stages of the swallowtail butterfly lifecycle and pass along the information to your neighbors and friends.

For more information about butterflies and how you can attract them to your garden, visit my previous posts here: “Butterflies on My Mind”, and also here: “On Magic Wings”. More free information about lepidoptera (butterflies) may be found online at the non-profit website,  Butterflies and Moths of North America. In addition to these resources, there are also many excellent books available on gardening with butterflies in mind, as well as books on the butterfly lifecycle and identification for both children and adults. Click here to browse top rated butterfly titles at Amazon.com.

*Caution: Buddleja davidii is considered an invasive plant species in some regions of the United States and Canada. Please see my previous post,  “Butterflies on My Mind”, for more information on butterflybushes, and useful USDA links.

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Butterflies on My Mind: Top Three Summer Blooming Plants for Attracting Fluttering Beauties to Your Garden…

March 11th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Asclepias tubersosa (Butterflyweed) and Asclepias syriaca (Milkweed) are important sources of nectar for bees and butterflies. The leaves of Asclepias are also a source of food for monarch and other butterfly caterpillars.

With my seminar, “Gardening to Attract Birds, Bees and Butterflies” coming up on Monday night —and last week’s visit to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservancy still in my thoughts— you might say I have a fluttering of winged-creatures on my mind. Of course I’m always thinking of how to support honeybees in the garden (follow the Honeybee Conservancy blog here) and what’s good for the bees is often good for the birds and the butterflies. But when it comes to attracting monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies and other kaleidoscopic, winged-beauties to your garden, there are three key “butterfly magnets” to consider in your planting plan. Butterflies enjoy many cluster-flowered plants, but Asclepias (Milkweed), Verbena —particularly Verbena bonariensis— and Buddleja species (Butterfly bush) are simply irresistible to them. Plant any one of these beauties in your garden and you will always get a landing and never just a fly-by. And as an added bonus, they are among the favorites of bees and hummingbirds as well…

Verbena bonariensis is a tropical plant grown as an annual or semi-annual (sometimes self-sowing) in cold climates. It’s popular with butterflies and bees alike.

Asclepias, more commonly known as milkweed, is a wonderful group of plants; including many natives. Last year I featured the gorgeous Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) in a post on mid-summer color (click here to read more about this North American native plant). I love bold color combinations in sunny, summertime perennial borders. Why not combine the sweet orange of butterfly weed with drifts of ethereal, lavender-hued Verbena bonariensis? Commonly known as purpletop vervain or tall verbena, Verbena bonariensis is a tropical plant native to Central and South America. In cold climates, Verbena bonariensis is usually grown as an annual or semi-annual plant (blooms the first year from seed and it will sometimes successfully self-sow), and in warmer climates it is grown as a tender perennial (hardy USDA zones 7-11). This is a tall, airy, elegant plant (approx 3-4.5′ tall and wide) with strong, slender stems (I like to grow plenty both in my perennial borders and in the potager for cutting). Purpletop vervain looks best when planted en masse for a hazy, purple cloud-like effect, and it prefers well-drained soil and plenty of moisture (will tolerate hot and dry, midsummer conditions once established).

Buddleja davidii (Orange-eye Butterfly Bush) lives up to its name. It is a favorite of butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

Butterfly bush, or Buddleja (B. davidii pictured above) is perhaps the most popular plant for butterfly and hummingbird enthusiasts. Native to Chile and China, these flowering shrubs are long-standing, easy-to-grow garden favorites. Butterfly bush species are tolerant of poor, alkaline soil, polluted, urban situations and stress, making them a good choice in some areas. However, gardeners should be aware that one Buddleja species, Buddleja davidii, is listed as a “noxious weed” in certain areas of the United States (Oregon and Washington specifically list B. davidii as a noxious-weed, and it is possibly invasive in southwestern, coastal Canada) because of its free-seeding ways (it’s best to check with the USDA state noxious weed list online —linked here— or your local USDA Extension Service —linked here— before planting Buddleja davidii; particularly along the west coast and possibly in warmer states on the eastern seaboard)*. If you live in Oregon or Washington, or in another area where Buddleja davidii is considered invasive, consider a non-aggressive butterfly bush species, such as Buddleja globosa (USDA zone 7-11, orange ball tree/ball butterfly bush), or in cooler climates, consider planting native Clethra alnifolia (see my previous post & article on this shrub here). Buddleja davidii (synon. Buddleia davidii) is hardy in zones 5-9, and in cold climates (where it is far less likely to freely colonize and become weedy) B. davidii is treated as a perennial plant; cut back to the ground in late fall or early spring. New growth will emerge in spring and flowers will form on fast-growing young wood in the first year. Fountain butterflybush, Buddleja alternifolia, and Buddleja globosa (and other Buddleja species) produce blossoms on old wood, and should be pruned for shape in late spring or early summer after they have flowered. Buddleja alternifolia is considered to be a somewhat hardier species than Buddleia davidii. I have observed B. alternifolia growing in zone 4.

I will be writing more about how to attract butterflies, bees and birds to gardens in the coming months. But, if you are planning your garden now, you may want to add a couple of these sure-fire butterfly magnets to your shopping list!

*Buddleja davidii is not currently on the USDA federal invasive plant list. However, it is currently considered a “noxious weed” in Oregon and Washington (check state noxious weed/invasive plant lists here) Many plants considered “weedy” or “invasive” in one area are non-threatening in other areas. It is the responsibility of the individual gardener to know and respect the laws and environmental guidelines within their respective states and communities.


Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly! Insect Enemy Number One: Tomato Hornworm Wanted Dead or Alive!

August 4th, 2010 § 8 comments § permalink

The Hornworm (Manduca sexta) – Image ⓒ Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss

Wanted Dead or Alive: Manduca quinquemaculata (and also Manduca sexta) aka The Hornworm. Although he looks almost clownish in Tim Geiss’ photo (above), this garden pest is no laughing matter. The hornworm feeds on tomato plants and their relatives (other nightshades of the Solanaceae family; including peppers, tomatillos, eggplants, tobacco and the like) and a gang of these caterpillars can easily defoliate entire plants in a matter of days. Give these garden-thugs a week unchecked, and you can kiss your tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatillos goodbye all together.

As you can see from the photo, Mr. Hornworm is a master of disguise. It’s nearly impossible to spot him as he crawls down the backside of leaves and stems, munching as he goes. In fact, most of the time, it’s easier to detect the tomato hornworm’s presence by the dark green droppings rapidly accumulating at the base of host plants. With this in mind, carefully inspect the soil/mulch in your garden as you weed and water. The best method of control is to handpick these caterpillars from garden plants manually (don’t worry about that menacing-looking horn – this bug looks tough but it’s all coward in the end). Step on ’em and squash ’em, or drop ’em in a bucket of soapy water and it’s bye-bye Joker!

The Hornworm (Manduca sexta) Tail Detail – Image ⓒ Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss

Gardener’s Supply Company Organic Thurcide: Btk Solution

Organic controls for tomato hornworm include Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki) and spinosad (saccharopolyspora spinosa). Btk is a naturally occurring bacterium found in soil. When correctly handled and applied only to targeted foliage where caterpillars are feeding, Btk is both a safe and effective  organic solution for controlling tomato hornworm and other destructive caterpillars. However, it is important to note that Btk kills all worms and caterpillars —including butterfly larvae— when ingested. With this in mind, gardeners should never blanket-spray with Btk. Remember that the bacterium only works if the tomato worm actually eats it (and then it will take a few days). Target-spray the undersides of leaves and plant stems where the worms have been observed feeding. Spinosad is another biological insecticide product manufactured from a naturally occurring organism. When ingested (by caterpillars and other pests) spinosad will kill the host within a day or two. This is a low-toxicity product, but as with all organic pesticides, it should be used in a targeted manner and only when absolutely necessary. Try hand-picking first.

Gardener’s Supply Company Organic : Spinosad Pest Control Spray

Of course, as is often the case with villains, the hornworm has natural enemies. Birds will eat hornworms, so keeping bird houses and bird baths in your garden is definitely to your advantage if you’d like to encourage an aerial assault on the enemy. And, the appropriately named Assassin Bug (there are hundreds of individual species on the North American continent) should be welcomed to the garden as a member of your posse. In addition to the tomato hornworm, the assassin bug hunts down and kills many other ‘bad bugs’; including Colorado potato beetles, cut worms, aphids, Japanese beetles and many others. But in spite of his name, the Assassin bug isn’t the number one killer of hornworm. If you really want to see a hornworm taken down, you need to see the Braconid wasp in action…

No one stands between me and my golden tomatoes. Bring in the mercenaries: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

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The parasitic wasp (including the hornworm destroying Braconid) is a natural, female mercenary extraordinaire. Non-stinging and pollen-eating, parasitic wasps are attracted to flowering plants in your garden, where they will happily co-exist with other beneficial insects and animals. Draw braconid wasps to your garden with creative companion planting. Adult braconids are attracted to the pollen and nectar of flowers such as Queen Anne’s Lace and tansy, and herb blossoms; including dill, fennel, mint and parsley. So plant lots of flowering herbs, edible blossoms and posies for picking in your potager.

The braconid wasp is a clever killer. As you can see below, it’s not the delicate wasp herself who actually does the dirty deed to the hornworm. Oh no… She tasks her voracious off-spring with the job; depositing her eggs on the backs of her unsuspecting caterpillar victims! Gothic garden? Yes, indeed. This Kafkaesque process is true inspiration for a stomach-churning horror-flick. After the adult wasp lays her eggs on a wormy, slow-moving host, the tiny larvae hatch and burrow into the skin of the victim, devouring the caterpillar from within and pupating on its back. Warning: this process (captured below by photographer Tim Geiss) may be upsetting to some viewers. Sorry folks, Mother Nature isn’t always pretty! But, you really ought to take a close look to become familiar with your mercenary friends. You want to leave the parasite-infested caterpillars near your garden, protecting the living ‘nursery’ beneath nearby leaves and grass. The Braconid’s parasitic children may be the stuff of true hornworm nightmares, but they are a tomato lover’s best friend….

Braconid Wasp Larvae Eating a Hornworm – ALIVE ! – Image ⓒ Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss

It’s important for a gardener to know the difference between the good and the bad, and to learn to tolerate the ugly. Not sure of whom to trust? For some great resources, check out my post, “Good Bug, Bad Bug? Let’s See Some ID Please…” over at Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety blog, and round up your posse. When it comes to protecting my veggies, I’ve learned to work with Mother Nature’s big gun mercenaries, and to show no mercy… Just like Clint…

Whom Do You Trust? YouTube Clip from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Finale…


Tomato Hornworm photographs are ⓒ Tim Geiss – many thanks to the artist for his patient stalking of the dread caterpillars!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly images are ⓒ Untied Artist Pictures

Article ⓒ Michaela at TGE. All product images are courtesy of linked retailers.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Feeling Warm and Fuzzy on a Chilly October Day …

October 9th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Acronicta americana – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Ctenucha virginica – Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Estigmene acrea – Salt Marsh Moth Caterpillar

Brrrr. I think it’s officially time to pull out the woollies! There is a damp chill in the air on this gray October morning – it’s a good day to pull out a trusty old mohair sweater. As I stepped outside today, I happened to notice that I’m not the only one donning a few extra layers. On my early walks around the garden this week, I discovered dozens of warm, fuzzy insects dressed up in wooly costumes – all of them decked out in vibrant fall colors. If only I could knit! From spiky and eccentric to elegant and lacy, there is fashionable inspiration everywhere in the garden. Parisian designers – take note!

All of the furry creatures pictured above are moth caterpillars. Aren’t they beautiful? Look at those patterns and colors, (click any photo for a larger view). I am not an entomologist, nor was the study of insects my strongest subject in college, so I needed a bit of help in order to correctly identify each species pictured here. One of my more important gardening goals is to learn more about insects. Not only do I hope to review and enhance my understanding of the allies and enemies I commonly find in my potager, but I also want to better recognize butterfly and moth species by caterpillar – just for the fun of it. If you are looking to quickly identify insects online, a really good insect and spider database, (with useful field photographs), is available from from the University of Iowa Department of Entomology – it’s called Bug Guide . If you live in North America and enjoy butterflies, moths and caterpillars, (and want help learning to identify them specifically), you will also love these websites: Butterflies and Moths of North America and What’s This Caterpillar. There are other useful entomological resources listed on the blog roll at right, under the heading ‘Insects/Entomology’. I think these are great places to bookmark and explore – fun for kids of all ages.

The plant world is also decked out in some textural attire right now. Puffy, fuzzy inflorescences in the garden are all aglow in mauve, taupe and violet. These seductive, smokey hues and intricate details really shine in the early light of day – sparkling and shimmering with morning dew. On damp, rainy mornings I notice the delicate flora are all wearing drops of water like brilliant, crystal-encrusted gowns…

Cotinus coggyria, SmokebushCotinus coggygria (Smokebush)

Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ (Flame grass) inflorescence

pennisetum alopecuroides inflorescencePennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’ (Fountain grass)

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ between showers…

cotinus rain dropsCotinus coggygria – wearing a necklace of rain drops…

Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the sole property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced for any reason without express, written permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond-friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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