I like to grow edibles in the home landscape. Sometimes we eat them and other times, we plant them just so they can be eaten by visitors. The last few years, we've been planting ornamental fennel in our containers out front. Their tall, dark stems give way to feathery leaves that get topped off by yellow blooms this time of year.
But that's not all that appears this time of year. In our area (Kansas City region), Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars make an appearance. Fennel is one of their favorite food sources. Though I've never witnessed a butterfly laying its eggs on our plants, if we keep a close eye out, we can spot these gorgeous caterpillars in early- to mid-July.
This year is no exception, but I nearly blew it. On July 31st, I hadn't spotted a single caterpillar on our fennel, and our containers were really needing a refreshing after these hot, dry July days. So, I cut down the stalks on two of the three plants and placed them in the bin in the garage. To be honest, I was a bit grumpy about the "dud" variety of fennel we planted this year and even vowed to my husband that next year, we would hold out for another variety at the local garden centers.
Imagine my shock when hubby walked in from the garage and asked if I knew I had thrown away tons of caterpillars. How could this be? We've known them to be hard to spot, but how did I miss three dozen hungry caterpillars on so few stems? Somehow I did, and we set out to rescue the live caterpillars from the garbage bin and transfer them to the remaining fennel out front.
So invite some Swallowtail butterflies to dinner in your own garden by planting a selection of fennel, carrots, parsley or dill - but don't give up on the caterpillars too soon like I did! You and your favorite youngsters will enjoy watching them build their chrysalis then emerge between 10-18 days later. Enjoy!