As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

The Time of the Butterflies

Spring gardening in Central Texas is an exciting time of year, not just because of the food coming out of the garden for human consumption, but also because the of the food that feeds non-human critters.  While watering this morning, I spotted multiple caterpillars on the fennel and parsley plants. With a little research (thank you Google Images), I was able to identify the caterpillar that my garden most often feeds, year after year: The Black Swallowtail.

This particular species likes all the food found in the carrot family, Apiaceae (dill, fennel, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace). So how do the caterpillars find my garden? Well, the female butterfly lays her eggs on these plants knowing that the hungry caterpillars prefer them. After several weeks of serious munching (don’t get too attached to these plants because the caterpillars will eat them all), they build a cocoon and will emerge as a big, beautiful butterfly.

What amazes me with the Black Swallowtail caterpillar is that they always appear close to when the plants in the Apiaceae family are about to bolt (e.g. put flowers out) and then die (due to the TX heat). Obviously, this is typically when I would stop eating these plants anyway, so it’s really a perfect relationship 🙂

Black Swallotail caterpillars on fennel

Black Swallowtail caterpillar on parsley

Last May I had the unbelievable luck to happen upon a butterfly that had literally just come out of her cocoon. She was so new that she was stretching her wings for the first time. It was an amazing site to see.

Black Swallowtail, newly emerged from cocoon

You can see the cocoon right above her

Planting native plants and/or adapted plants that attract indigenous wildlife is one fairly simple step to supporting a vibrant, native ecosystem. Here in Central Texas we are are lucky to have lots of resources at our fingertips of how to do so. Here are a few helpful websites:

National Wildlife Federation–Garden for Wildlife Program

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Wildscapes Program

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

City of Austin Plant Guide


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