The pot of parsley on the back patio is now nothing but a gaggle of green stems jutting out haphazardly, all the curly, frilly leaves having been devoured by colorful caterpillars that will, if they escape foraging birds and other predators, one day become black swallowtail butterflies.
Each spring, I plant a big pot of parsley, snippings of which I add to the mixture for garlic cheddar biscuits, a mighty fine accompaniment for the red ripe tomatoes of summer. The chopped parsley adds little or nothing taste-wise to the yumminess of the biscuits and tomatoes — just a bit of interior decoration as it were (and a smidgen of vitamin C).
Everything is copasetic as the summer goes along and I try and keep the tomato supply and the biscuit supply in reasonably even proportions. I snip off a few bunches and the plants obligingly grow more.
Then, early to mid-August, almost overnight a goodly portion of the parsley is gone — nothing left but stubby, bare stems. Sure enough, the colorful green, yellow, and black caterpillars have appeared and are busily devouring parsley leaves.
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A website about food plants for these butterflies-to-be, in what can only be the epitome of understatement, advises: “Be prepared for heavy munching on your host plants.” One day I’ve got a pot of parsley, the next day a significant portion of it is gone.
“Parsley is gharsley,” quipped the humorist Ogden Nash. The caterpillars obviously haven’t read Ogden Nash.
It doesn’t take them many days to go through the entire pot of parsley (my biscuits, in the meantime, are parsley-less, unless I remember to buy a bunch when I’m at the supermarket). And then, following the bylaws of Mother Nature, the caterpillars go somewhere to cycle through pupa and chrysalis stages, after which they burst forth as a butterflies, ready to lay eggs on somebody’s pot of parsley and start the cycle all over again.
I initially mistakenly thought the caterpillars were the kind that turn into lovely monarch butterflies, which journey hundreds, even thousands, of miles to overwinter at a specific location in central Mexico.
But a bit of research revealed that, no, the caterpillars that become monarchs have no taste for parsley — they feed only on milkweeds, of which there are none in my backyard, or anywhere in the vicinity.
I was somewhat peeved the first year I found the caterpillars chomping through my parsley, but in the spirit of live-and-let-live, I figured what’s a pot of parsley if it means graceful swallowtail butterflies flitting through the yard.