Thursday, June 3, 2010

"A Hornworm Ate My Baby!"

When I first started gardening, I grew only vegetables. I considered myself more of a cook who gardens than a gardener who cooks. Then I started growing herbs (still the best bang-for-your-buck edible in my book), which had the added bonus of attracting caterpillars.

After allowing those caterpillars to maul my herbs (here are my thoughts on caterpillar etiquette), I certainly wanted them to stick around as butterflies so I added the final piece of the puzzle: a food source for the butterflies. Last year I had a few Gulf fritillaries, usually in pairs, regularly visit. This year I've found a lot more metamorphised friends in the yard, despite killing three butterfly bushes.

At the top of the post is a female black swallowtail caterpillar. Either my admonitions last fall worked or the butterflies just couldn't resist all the blooming poppies and larkspurs.

I can't tell for sure (probably because I'm distracted by the neighbor's truck bed/trailer in her backyard) but I think this is a male black swallowtail butterfly. The female has more blue on her.A first for my garden, and a bit of a surprise, was this monarch. I never got a chance to plant more milkweed for the caterpillars to replace the ones I'd killed (yes, I killed a plant called a weed), but one butterfly just couldn't resist the flowers .I was even more surprised to see this eastern tiger swallowtail. I'd never seen one of these in my neighborhood until I stalked one the day before on a walk. I guess my entreaties of "here, little butterfly" were more appealing than creepy, and it followed me home.I hadn't even thought about providing shelter for resting butterflies, but due to my lazy busy with the baby days, these poppy stalks provide great cover. (I had managed to find time to snip the seedheads.) It took me a while to notice the fritallaries snoozing on them. There are two hidden in the picture below.Another unexpected butterfly sighting was this red admiral on the dog vomit slime mold covering my strawberries. The butterfly makes even vomit mold look pretty.No? Yeah, not working for me, either. I guess there limits as to what butterflies can beautify. The red admiral looks much better on the larkspur.Of course, before the butterflies arrive, there must be caterpillars. While I am happy to provide food for the swallowtail caterpillars and the Gulf fritallaries, I draw the line at the tomato hornworms. This gigantic hornworm (actually found by the dog on my inland sea oats ) provoked quite a flurry of tweets. (I still wish @Indygardener had come down and killed it for me.) It was huge--about five inches long and as thick as the middle finger I extended to it in salutation. Its horn was sharp and menacing, and it had a voracious appetite that may or may not have included delectable little babies.

Because I heard Meryl Streep in her impeccable Australian accent saying, "A hornworm ate my baby," every time I looked at it, I killed it.

(For the sphinx moth lovers out there, I did merely relocate two smaller ones I found on my tomato plants.)

And finally, here's a photo of the latest redneck gardener addition to the backyard. One of those cool mornings a few weeks ago, I took the boy out into the vegetable garden with me. It had rained the night before so I didn't want to put him on the wet ground. The sun was coming out so I cobbled together what I had to keep him protected. I hope to embarrass him at a later age with this photo. (In case you're worried, he's yawning, not crying, in this picture.)


  1. What a great post & such fabulous pictures! Whew, am glad that the hornworm didn't REALLY eat your baby!

    Will ask my dog to vomit for the Red Admirals. They don't seem to respond to cat vomit, of which I have lots.

    And it's interesting: gardening got me more interested in cooking and planting things to bring into the kitchen.

    Baby is yawning out of contentment: babies love to see fellow creatures enjoying vomit.

  2. Awwwwwwwwww, Vertie, I'm so glad to see you're bringing that boy up right from the very beginning!

  3. Awesome pictures. I've had the black swallowtails, admirals, and gulf fritillaries, but I haven't had any monarchs (despite the gregs mistflower and milkweed--albeit those are the newest additions). I keep seeing an eastern tiger swallowtail around, but I can never get it to stop in my yard.

  4. My larkspur attract the same butterflies but I've never managed to take photographs that in any way match the awesomeness of yours. Wow! It makes me fall in love with larkspur and butterflies all over again.

    The most common one in my yard is the black swallowtails but I get quite a few yellow ones too. I don't seem to get as many monarchs as other people in Austin. Even when I had asclepias planted, they ignored it.

    P.S. The kid is a cutie. Glad he's learning to love life in the garden.

  5. Are there any Bird-Poop caterpillars in your garden this year? Seems like you need one for this exhibit, Vertie!

    The boy makes your cardboard contraption look cute, but even your photography skills can't make me think the hornworm is cute... finding tomato worms was one of the chores my parents gave us kids & it took me years to even look at tomatoes after a summer of caterpillar killing. Please don't subject the boy to that trauma! Get May Dreams Carol on a plane!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    (I gave up on ID's - just lump them all under Swallowtail and admire them all.)

  6. Fab photos! I hope to one day have as many fluttery visitors in my garden. And Jack is just too adorable!

  7. I'm with you on the hornworms. Can you say squish? I don't care squat about any moth when were talking tomatoes.

    If you keep taking that boy to the garden with you he will probably end up gardening. Then you will feel guilty about what you have done to him, costing him all that money for plants and mulch and what not. He's definitely a cutie.

  8. Beautiful butterfly photos and I am with you on the horn worms. I had a flurry of Tobacco hornworms weeks ago and today I removed 2 tomato horn worms from my tomatillos. They were stripped almost bare. They hadn't made any fruit and now I guess they won't. I don't think you'll embarrass the boy. He really will be able to relate to Monty Python's think about living in a cardboard box! Ask me if you don't know it. My boys always slept outside.

  9. I love the dog vomit mold when it's bright yellow...after that...ew. What beautiful photos!

    Nice bassinet! Good work, hehe.

  10. The baby looks like a just-delivered package from Amazon.

    I love all your butterflies! I don't have as much diversity in my tiny backyard. We get red admirals and cabbage whites. There's an anise swallowtail leaving eggs on the fennel, but I've never seen the imago (adult butterly) and I'm afraid something is eating the caterpillars once they get to be large and tasty (but maybe they go off to find some out-of-the-way location to pupate that I haven't discovered--that's what I'm hoping).