Who’s Eating My Dill Weed?

I’m out hunting for wildflowers so often my poor garden is neglected.  This year I let about a dozen or more volunteer dill plants grow wherever they came up. They’re a mess now, some still flowering, most gone to seed and looking weedy. I was pulling them out and cutting them back and generally tidying up when I saw this caterpillar…


…and immediately put down the pruners and went inside to fetch the camera. (That’s a serrano pepper behind the dill, by the way.)

There were several, actually, so I stopped pulling the plants and left the insects where they were – there’s plenty of dill to spare, and these caterpillars will soon pupate to later emerge as black swallowtail butterflies.

Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillars feed on plants in the Apiaceae, mostly on garden plants brought by European colonists: dill, parsley, wild carrots, and fennel.



a late flowering dill plant in my garden, August 31


Learning that, I immediately wondered what they ate before the invasion.  I wasn’t the only one asking that question, for the answers were right there on the internet.  Among other things they love golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea).



golden Alexanders on Billy Goat B trail, April 29


I love golden Alexanders, too, and bought one from a native plant nursery last spring. Darned expensive little thing. It’s coming along quite nicely, but there isn’t enough green to spare to feed a voracious late instar caterpillar.  I don’t know what I’ll do if I find one on the plant. Probably pick it off and move it over to the dill.  Hopefully that wouldn’t cause the osmeterium to come out.

Bon appetite, mes beautés!


Sometimes, It’s About Perspective


Queen Anne’s Lace
aka wild carrot, bishop’s lace
Daucus carota



This is probably the plant from which modern carrots were derived, and so we owe it some respect.  Except that it has escaped cultivation and grows wild all over the US and most of Canada and is a serious pasture pest.  Four states list it as a noxious weed.


When I was a child “summer” meant riding in the back of my parents’ convertible, watching the Queen Anne’s lace and chicory* go by on the roadside. So pretty!  That might even be my earliest memory of “wildflowers”, though the grown-up me dismisses them as alien invasives.


At any rate, I haven’t paid attention to Queen Anne’s lace in years.  Never even took a photograph of one until recently.  While hiking along the C&O Canal towpath near lock 8, I saw some particularly tall specimens with flowers just starting to open.



I was quite taken with the form, and spent some time shooting them from different angles.






It’s really striking this way, isn’t it?  Much more aesthetically pleasing, and harder to dismiss as a roadside weed.20150716-20150716-_DSC0008


*chicory, aka cornflower and a host of other common names; Cichorium intybus, Asteraceae:

Flower of the Day: Golden Alexanders


Zizia aurea; Apiaceae

This perennial member of the carrot family stands about two feet tall and grows in a variety of habitats, from moist to drier open woodlands and in rocky areas, and provides nectar for a large variety of insects that don’t have many other sources in the springtime.  It ranges from Quebec to Florida and west into the Great Plains.

The complex inflorescence is an umbel of about a dozen umbellets:


Each umbellet consists of about twenty flowers, each with five inward-curving petals.

In case you’re wondering, yes, these botanical terms share a root with the word “umbrella”.  It’s from the Latin umbra, meaning shadow.  Umbel-shaped flower heads are typical in the Apiaceae.

The genus is named for botantis J. B. Ziz.  What I can’t figure out is why this (and several other) species has the common name Alexanders.  If anyone knows, please leave a comment.

Flower of the Day: Harbinger-of-Spring


Erigenia bulbosa

I started this blog on April Fools’ Day, 2014, noting that I couldn’t remember a colder winter.  Well, guess what?  2015’s been pretty damn cold, too.  The plants are off to an even slower start this year.


But I did find harbinger-of-spring yesterday (it was my first Flower of the Day feature last year). Not a bad way to start the season. This tiny plant in the carrot family can be very difficult to spot amongst the leaf litter, as it stands only a few inches tall; each cluster of flowers measures only a quarter inch across.



To put that into perspective, note the medium-sized maple leaf lying next to the plant.




Next up, a really strange plant that is, as far as I can tell, the earliest blooming one in the area.