The first thing I did when I returned from vacation yesterday was walk – well, more like run – to the garden to check the progress of the pipevine swallowtail caterpillars that are residing there. The dozen or so black and orange critters had grown quite a bit since I left three days ago and apparently, with their larger size comes a more voracious appetite.
Their host vine, which was only gallon size when I bought and planted it a few months ago, had been munched down to only ten remaining leaves. Immediately, I knew they were going to run out of food, probably by the next day, if I didn’t intervene.
I called my sister-friend to ask if she would join me to hunt for more pipevine. We decided to check out the river trail where I had seen it growing in the past. As we meandered down the trail, we talked about bees, love, and gardening. We saw elderberry shrubs, buckeye trees, and native cucumbers growing abundantly. With cucumbers, wild grape, and pipevine intertwining under, over, and around just about every tree and shrub along the trail, searching for this plant became a bit like hunting for morel mushrooms – we had to get our “pipevine eyes” on.
We stood staring at a beautiful Marah fabaceus or California cucumber, when we finally saw the pipevine. I took a few cuttings and soon had enough food for the babies. I got the cuttings home, placed them in water, and presented the bounty to the caterpillars. Within minutes, they were squirming their way to sustenance and I felt happy.
Now some may think I’m strange for going this far to ensure the caterpillar’s wellbeing, or that I am interfering with nature (as my husband put it), but I planted the vine there specifically for the swallowtail butterfly. And the thing is, I never dreamed a butterfly would lay her eggs in my garden the first year. I thought the plant would have plenty of time to grow, producing food a year or so from now. However, nature had different plans.
Yes, I could have sat back and passively observed the unfolding events, but I felt responsible for not giving them enough food to get them through the larva stage. I did what any good mother would do, I fed them. And now, they are happily partaking of the pipevine and I am filled with a nature-drunk love toward these creatures. I will rest easy tonight knowing their little tummies are full.