Holes In Leaves-I Do It For You

We tolerate a lot for love.

One would be hard pressed to find a petal or leaf without holes here in the Fairegarden.

There are a couple of reasons for this state of affairs, the first being that we don’t spray pesticides.

The second reason for the holistic attitude is the way we feel about certain of the leaf chompers.

There is one seed grown plant of Coreopsis tripteris, (that is what the seed packet said, anyway, I have doubts) planted near the edge of the yellow/white garden that has never bloomed. (Added: This plant is an Asclepias of some sort!) This is its third year and its days of living in so prominent a spot, the better to water you, my dear, without flowering, were numbered. But about a month ago a cluster of small orange eggs were spotted on the under side of a leaf, so we decided to take a wait and see approach.

Just across the gravel path on the passion vine that is wrapping itself around the deck ramp railing, many more munching holes were spotted. These we knew to be the work of the Gulf fritillary caterpillars. The passion vine is allowed to grow in several places for the sole purpose of feeding the orange with black spiked larvae.

The thrill is real regarding the business of these caterpillars. The larval food for monarchs is milkweed, and we have tried again and again to grow it just for them, to no avail. Asclepias tuberosa will tolerate the dry slope, but it is not on the menu. An occasional monarch will drop by the garden for some nectaring, for there are flowers aplenty here, but the specific larval food is absent. Until now.

It matters not if the Coreopsis tripteris never blooms, for it appears to be an acceptable substitute for the milkweed to the diners. Or perhaps this really is milkweed? (Added: It is a milkweed.) What matters are these magnificent creatures that emerge from those very hungry caterpillars. For several years, there were but a few Gulf fritillary butterflies. This year there are many.

Perhaps there will be many monarchs this year, as well.
From the cinematically beautiful Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, circa 1991:


This entry was posted in wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Holes In Leaves-I Do It For You

  1. I adore the holes as I know someone is busy growing in the garden whether it is a leafcutter bee or the caterpillar from a butterfly or moth. Too dry here this year so we saw only the caterpillars from the black swallowtail…

    Holes can be good, Donna, and we have plenty of them. It makes me happy since it means the garden is alive with creatures. I usually only notice the black swallowtails, which are nothing to sneeze at, too, since they are so large and noticeable on the bronze fennel and parsley. I was happy to see the monarchs, a first!

  2. Mark and Gaz says:

    Holes on petals and leaves are all but part of the reality that is gardening 🙂 And there can be beauty in them too!

    So true, Mark and Gaz. Those holes are to be expected if one doesn’t spray. I love butterflies so much, it is worth seeing the holes, which don’t bother me at all.

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I always think it exciting to see those nibbled leaves. It sets me to wondering what is out there chomping. Your little plot of the planet is lucky to have you as caretaker.

    Thanks Lisa. I try to look to see who is doing the leaf chomping. It sometimes is one who will get squished, like grasshoppers. Learning who eats what is something I am trying to understand, like with the passionvine. It helps me know when to look for certain butterflies.

  4. During a garden/farm tour early this summer, a guest spied a caterpillar munching happily on our fennel. He shook his head and told me we’d better get out the spray. My 11-year-old daughter was appalled, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Don’t you know that we’re organic? And that’s a host plant!” While I did have a word with her about her tone to the gentleman, I was also very proud–our next generation of organic gardeners is ready to care for our planet. Lovely photos of the caterpillars/butterflies!

    That is wonderful, Julie!!!! You have done well with your child. They are the hope of the future, to help combat the indoctrination that has been infused into our culture by the makers of petroleum chemicals. Don’t get me started! Thanks for adding to the conversation here.

    • Thanks, Frances. Ironically, my dad was a general manager for an international petrochemical company…but he grew up on an organic farm post-depression. We had a lot of fun, teasing in his later years, about my organic gardening.

      Thanks for following up, Julie. I used to work for an oil company myself, it was my first real job. It seemed at the time that we all co-existed much more peacefully, or maybe that was my naive youth. Now, the organic farmers must do battle against the chemical companies to survive, and the government seems in on it, too.

  5. Marguerite says:

    Oh my , what magnificent creatures at all of their stages and how lucky to have captured them on film (ok on pixels) to enjoy again and again after they have continued their journey. What are the beautiful flowers that the butterfly is drinking from in the last two photos. The spiky plummy one and the soft mauvey pink with the yellow center? so pretty even without seeing the lush garden surrounding them. Thank you for an inspiring start to the day

    Thanks Marguerite, lucky am I. The last photo is the monarch on Aster tataricus ‘Jin Dai’. The shot above is a Gulf fritillary on a seedling butterfly bush, Buddleia ssp.

  6. If only everyone was as generous with their gardens as you are. It makes us happier, more relaxed gardeners. I watch people judge our lawns negatively – they are not perfectly weed free – quite the opposite as they are packed with flowering weeds which are so enjoyed by bees.

    I love the comment made by the child above! Fabulous!

    Thanks Shoe. It is an adjustment of the mindset that is taught by the pesticide industry folks to expect perfect lawns and flowers and leaves without holes. They don’t get that it is a system, a very complex and wonderful design with a reason for everything. The child’s comment is positively brilliant.

  7. Dee A. Nash says:

    I really do think that is a milkweed Faire. I couldn’t tell you which one, but it sure has the leaves. I love that you have Monarchs and Gulf Fritillaries in your garden. I had so many Gulf Fritillaries this year with the passion vine. I hope mine comes back. I never know if it will.~~Dee

    Thanks Dee. I believe it is too, but would never have guessed that without seeing the monarch larvae on it and knowing how food specific they are. We are like you with the passion vine, some years are much better than others for it. This is a good year and we already see many Gulf fritillary butterflies and there a a kajillion catts on it now. Yippee!

  8. Cindy, MCOK says:

    What a beautiful sight all those caterpillars are! I have passion vine running rampant in one area of the back garden but I haven’t seen any frit larvae. I may cut it back judiciously before it takes over the entire garden. You’ve lived in the Houston area, you know it could happen!

    Thanks Cindy. Oh yes, I DO remember how the passion vine grew in Houston area. It came with our property and was well into the tall pine trees. I grew it along wires along the wooden fence, the better to see the flowers. It needed hacking back frequently. The winters here take care of that whacking.

  9. Lynn Hunt says:

    Gorgeous photo as always! I am willing to endure some holes (even in my rose petals) for those beautiful butterflies.

    Thanks Lynn. I am not sure it is good guys who eat the roses, but spraying would kill them all, so holes it is!

  10. I feel the same way about the holes. Only thing is I have a hard time finding the caterpillars. Not sure if I’m not good at looking or they just aren’t there. One thing that has a LOT of holes lately is sweet potato vine. I’d really like to know who is eating it.

    Thanks for visiting, Garden IAC. I know that many holes in petals and leaves are not caused by butterfly larvae, but this ecosystem has its own rules. I will hand squish grasshoppers and cucumber beetles, but cannot get them all, of course. I have sweet potatoes for the first time ever, and it is a popular dining item. I am hoping to at least get a couple of tubers from it for the humans!

  11. Carolyn says:

    I adore your holistic attitude, Frances, and I’m sure those sweet caterpillars do. too!

    Thanks Carolyn. The catts are fun to watch, but even more fun knowing that they will morph into.

  12. spurge says:

    Even the holes are beautiful! What a wonderful spiky guy that gulf caterpillar is. I’ve never seen one like him!

    Thanks Spurge. The closeups can make things appear more beautiful than they are to the human eye. HA I love that the Gulf fritillary catts are the same colors as the butterfly, too. Easy indentification.

  13. I love this post! I know I’ve come a long ways as a gardener. It’s been fun learning new things, and while I’ve always gardened without pesticides, I haven’t always had as much tolerance for having the leaves and flowers chewed on. Now, like you, I look for plants that will serve as host plants for the caterpillars. I used to pick the caterpillars off my parsley and throw them into the street for the birds to find. For the last few years, I’ve just been planting more parsley, so there is enough for all, and I enjoy the lovely swallowtails I get to see. I also grow several kinds of milkweed for the monarchs.

    Well, I still don’t like the spotted cucumber beetles, and will crush them, I have just recently been thinking maybe I should just leave them alone.

    Thanks Sue. Learning is a good thing, understanding is even better. Planting more parsley makes good sense. The tiger swallowtails also love bronze fennel. Let us hope that we both never stop learning!

  14. Beth Cawein says:

    I really never mind the holes in leaves, but what I abhor is those vole holes and the damage those little critters do. My property is a certified wildlife habitat, but I do NOT love all wildlife. I now have all of my hostas in pots – well the ones I have saved. Would much rather deal with the issue of catts and butterflies – these are not so much problems, but part of the nature that I enjoy in my garden.

    I feel your pain Beth, having voles all over the hillside. They are worse in some places than others, especially along the inside of the block walls. I have to plant Euphorbias, Foxgloves and daffodils in there, things that are poinsonous to them. Being a Certified NWF habitat here, as well, there is little else to do. I did dig up a large space and enclose it in hardware cloth, lining the bottom in sharp gravel, then refilled with garden soil. Read about it here-How To Stop Voles-The Wall Project.

    Hi Beth, I am thankful we don’t have voles in our yard, but they are in a bed I have at church. It is a small area surrounded by the cement of the parking lot and sidewalk. This is the first year I’ve noticed them. The area is full of holes, and is now lumpy instead of flat. Some of the plants are doing OK, but it’s hard to tell how much of the damage to plants is from the voles, and how much from all the heat and not enough water. It seems like once I started doing more watering, they dug new tunnels, so now, there are more. I didn’t know much about them when I added some native plants in June. The dug some up, but left others. Oh, and I saw some dash out of some tunnels when I did some watering. I thought of them as nasty little critters, myself.


Comments are closed.