The Parsley Caterpillar

caterpillar 1

I actually complained about growing too much parsley a month or so ago. My complaint stemmed from a conversation with fellow naturalist volunteers about butterflies. They grow wonderful native plant gardens in their back yards, some also recognized as native habitats, and regularly discuss the plants, insects, birds, and butterflies visiting various plants. I manage with a very small area, a few native plants in the sparse soil but mostly herbs in pots. I planted extra parsley this year because in years past the one plant always grew lush and verdant one day, and a couple of days later showed just spindly stems, the result of the larva of the Black Swallowtail, nicknamed the Parsley Caterpillar. Then I stopped growing any plants at all for two years, just too busy. Missing the fresh herbs for cooking and salads I restarted this year, and also this year I grew extra for the caterpillars.

They didn’t come. Until two weeks ago. And the extra naturally turned out not to be enough extra. We returned from a RV trip and I noticed the lush, almost overgrown parsley plants seemed sparse. Thinking they needed water, I filled the can from the rain barrel and started watering. Then I noticed the tiny black and white creatures. Just before we left for the trip, I saw one lone Black Swallowtail, somewhat the worse for wear based on the faded colors and the condition of her wings, stop briefly at the parsley plant, extend her abdomen for maybe a second, and take off. I hoped, but forgot about the brief sighting until I saw her offspring.

I watched as they grew, and the plants carried less and less foliage. I went out with a camera one day as the oldest, or at least largest, munched away contentedly on an outer leaf. Yesterday I saw the larger ones wandering around the other plants in the garden, hoping for another plant. A few younger siblings, still tiny and black and white, looked for leftovers in the original pot. I looked for cocoons, but found none.

I plan to replant that parsley, and maybe another large pot at the other end of the small potted herb garden. There is nothing like fresh salsa verde, tabbouleh made the traditional way with more parsley than bulgur, and the hope of more butterflies.

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