A mighty worm was he

Friday, June 29, 2012

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar.

A lime prickly ash, or wild lime, (Zanthoxylum fagara) has been given a home near some native plants in my back yard, joining a large sabal palm, wild coffee, Florida gama grass, beach verbena, locustberry, firebush, Mexican alvaradoa, coonties and milkweeds. The lime still is quite small, yet a Giant Swallowtail somehow found it. Some weeks ago, there were three orange dogs (Giant Swallowtail larvae) on the little tree. One by one, they disappeared, but the third was pretty big when last seen, so maybe it pupated. Then four days ago, I found another generation, this time just a single orange dog, 3/8s of an inch long, on the lime. (I make several forays a day into the garden to check on the little fellow because anoles watch him menacingly. I flick away even the baby lizards because I know what they’re up to.) This new worm is a hearty eater, consuming the compound leaves at a good clip, leaving the slender petioles, but the tree produces new leaves rather quickly, so it doesn’t seem threatened by this strange-looking little guy.

Meanwhile, the nearby Mexican alvaradoa (Alvaradoa amorphoides) has grown to 10 or 12 feet tall. It

Alvaradoa amophoides.

seems to like its corner near a stopper, sabal palms, wild coffee and Fakahatchee grass. This week, I have seen a small yellow butterfly in the yard heading in that direction. It’s probably too much to hope that it will be a rare Dina Yellow that at last has found its equally rare host plant. But you know about the springiness of hope.

Into this mix of plants, I added a corky-stemmed passionflower, Passiflora suberosa, which Mary Collins grew for the last Spring Plant Sale. It is sending delicate tendrils up the rough bark of an old avocado. This morning, a Zebra Heliconian flew in.

Monarchs have been busy for weeks eating down the milkweeds, so I’ve stashed one potted milkweed in an orchid house to allow seed pods to develop as the last replacement plants cost mucho dinero.

Giant Swallowtail egg.

I cannot possibly imagine how these lovely animals find their specific host plants, even though I know that the females use the hairs on their feet to chemically test for the right plant. But the wonder of having them show up, quite literally out of the blue, is one of the great joys of butterfly gardening.

And now, I have to check on a worm.