Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dill: It's Not Just For Dips Anymore

Actually, it never really was. Some clever person figured out that it added flavor to sour cream and a really good chip dip was born. But way before that, dill served a higher purpose. While we humans have lots of yummy things to eat, the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly caterpillar only eats a few.

We grow all their favorites here at Our Little Acre - dill, parsley, fennel, carrots, and rue. But they're chowing down on the dill exclusively. I grew that one from seed and just a week ago, it had foliage. Now it doesn't. In one short week, three of them have stripped it and it's my guess from their differing shades of color that one of them is about ready to pupate.

In the past two weeks, we've seen a lot of different butterflies flitting about here. On the day of the garden walk, it was as if
they were on parade, too. Monarchs, Red-Spotted Purples, Tiger Swallowtails, and of course a gazillion Cabbage Whites, Silver-Spotted Skippers, and Sulphurs. Occasionally, an Eastern Comma would come into the picture. Funny thing, though - I've not seen a single Black Swallowtail, yet these caterpillars are proof they've been here.

The caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail looks somewhat similar to that of the Monarch, but the Monarch is only black, yellow (can look greenish) and white striped. No spots. The Black Swallowtail has green stripes as well as stripes consisting of alternating black and yellow dots.

I love this time of year. The Monarchs are everywhere, both flying about the garden and crawling all over the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Soon, they'll be starting the great migration south. We're along a major migration corridor and peak time will be mid-September, so the caterpillars we're seeing now no doubt will be the ones that make the trip.
Unlike the Monarchs, the Black Swallowtails don't migrate. They'll pupate and hibernate through the winter.

While I get antsy to start cleaning up the uglies in the garden about now, I have to stop myself or at least be very careful, so as to not disturb the cycle of life going on there.

Silver-Spotted Skipper on Coreopsis 'Redshift'


Shady Gardener said...

Way to go there Kylee! You are a wonderful Butterfly Woman. :-)

Jason said...

Coincidentally enough, the Texas Gardener has these guys on the cover this month. When I was gone earlier this year they demolished our dill, too. But not before I got a little of it to make a creamy jalapeno-garlic-dill dipping sauce!

Anonymous said...

I don't blame them for chowing down on the dill -- yum! It's a miracle, isn't it, watching that spectacle of life.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Your post title cracked me up. Dips indeed. I too have lots of butterflies and have had a few of the Swallowtail caterpillars, but I can't find them now, so I think they were bird food. I have a few Carolina Wren that love to hang around the herbs.
So how do you like your Canon Powershot SX10 IS?

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Butterfly caterpillars are beginning to emerge all over the blogasphere.

Nutty Gnome said...

We've got a fair few butterflies - but none seem to be as colourful as yours!
Gorgeous photos BTW!

MyMaracas said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I planted both dill and carrots this year, and had I seen that caterpillar on them I might have squashed it. We do have black swallowtails around, so I'll keep an eye out for them.

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