June 20, 2006

Butterfly factory goes bust

Chewed up fennel plantWho would have thought that butterfly larvae would be such demanding charges?

A word of warning. One small fennel plant is not enough to accomodate two small black swallowtail caterpillars. They grow faster than the plant does. When I checked on their progress a few days ago, the fennel was looking alarmingly outclassed in the race against the caterpillars, so I decided I'd better get a few more plants. (The things we do for our pets!) They were going at clearance prices at a grocery store garden centre, so the sacrifice wasn't too burdensome, but by the time I got the new plants home, the caterpillars were nowhere to be seen. I parked the newcomers in the same corner, hoping the little critters hadn't got too far and would be lured back by the scent.

No such luck.

The original fennel plant is starting to put out new growth, unhindered by its voracious tenants. Unfortunately, I'd kind of fallen for the pretty little caterpillars, so it isn't much consolation. And, on top of it all, I feel like a rotten mother.

I hope my father-in-law will be impressed by the gift of a couple of fennel plants. I certainly don't have room for them if nobody's going to be trimming them for me.


Sigrun said...

Oh yes, I know this damage. My bronce fennel looks like yours last year, and every year. I put it on the compost.


Blackswamp_Girl said...

Aww... I hope you sent the caterpillars my way, Janet. I have loads of fennel for them but they keep ignoring me. *sigh*

When your fennel bounces back, if you let it go to seed you'll have plenty next year for them to enjoy.

GardenJoy3 said...

Hi Janet .. I have a few purple fennel plants by the original reseeding itself all over the place .. I just pull out the ones I don't want .. but I would love to have the critters that love them too ! .. I have a couple of buddleia as well .. wonderful scent ..
The Morden Sunrise .. first year I have had it .. I love the colours and the structure .. like a wild rose .. and the hardiness makes it easier on me .. the garden is getting to be quit a bit of work, so the less complicated or picky a plant is .. I LOVE IT ! haha
Joy : )

Anonymous said...

Purple fennel is quite ornamental when grown alone, nice habit, subdued tan umbels, eye catching specimen.
Unlike the common fennel it has no bulb. Are the seeds and leaves edible? If not, then this should be mentioned when I pass out seedlings, don't you think?

Janet said...

Anon, I don't know if they're edible or not. Thanks for the info about the bulb. I thought my plants just hadn't gotten mature enough. They're a little touch and go in this climate, but we had good snow cover this winter, so last year's plant is coming back strong. It was a seedling from the original plants though, which didn't make it through a mild winter with insufficient snow.

Anonymous said...

Purple fennel is not only edible, but quite good. It is sweeter than bronze or green fenneI.
I make an herbal tea with fennel and lemon balm tips in the summer that is wonderful over ice. Pick a a handful of each, rinse, and cover with a quart of boiling water. Let it steep until cool enough to pour over ice. If you need caffeine, add one bag of Biglow Constant Comment tea. I find that purple fennel adds just enough sweetness, but if you like it sweeter, add a little honey.
A few chopped fennel tips are nice in salad too.
The seeds are great in traditional Italian sausage, and when crushed, add a little sweetness and a gentle anise taste to winter teas.

Caterpillars that like fennel, such as swallowtails, also like dill, parsley, Queen Anne's Lace and carrot greens.
Happy Gardening! Sam

Janet said...

Thanks for the tips, Sam. I've got seedlings all over that flowerbed this spring. I'll let them grow a little more, then harvest most of them for salad.

Anonymous said...

Do cats eat fennel? Not caterpillars, actual cats. I planted fennel for Black Swallowtails and I've been noticing the fronds are stripped but I never see caterpillars. Last night I found the pot on the ground and the only thing I can think of is my outside cat might be eating it. I have a sprig in a small vase inside my house and my indoor cat - who wants to eat anything green - has not bothered it.

Janet said...

I doubt that cats are chomping on your fennel, Anon. You're probably going to have to go out at night to find the culprit. About an hour or two after sunset is usually a good time to catch the night munchers in the act.