It's all in the perspective

Mar 10, 2017

Tomato hornworm.

Last week I wrote about my gardening efforts to encourage black swallowtail butterflies to lay eggs. My hopes were that these would become caterpillar hordes that would munch my fennel and dill until bare stems remained. We’re almost at the naked stick stage, and I’ve learned that folks don’t always see things my way. We’ve had friends and family drop by to enlighten me about my insect cultivation practices.

The first visitor happened to be a farmer. His view of caterpillars in quantities great enough to wipe out the fern-like fronds of a fennel plant in a couple of days doesn’t jive with my dreams to expand this specific butterfly population. He tossed out a few agricultural terms that I’m pretty sure equate with killing pests. At first, I was traumatized to think anyone would consider my green, yellow, black, and white decorated worms as nuisances. However, I didn’t have to think very long to see why our friend might have this attitude. 

In another setting, I’d see these creatures much the same way. For instance, I don’t encourage tomato hornworms. In fact, when they show up in my garden, I’m on a determined mission to turn those vine-stripping monsters into premium fresh chicken food. I pour over my plants from top to bottom removing any sign of these destructive fiends. Ironically, they are closely related to the caterpillars I’ve been intentionally feeding. 

The giant worms that aim to destroy my tomato harvest happen to be the result of sphinx or humming -bird moth pairings. Those big old fluttering things that trick our eyes into believing we’ve got a hummer sipping at our flowers lays its eggs on tomato plants. When those little ovals hatch, the result is that nasty green hornworm that can wipe out a garden in no time. The bottom line is that black swallowtail butterflies and sphinx moths are in the Lepidoptera order—cousins I’d say.

Our next visitor who rattled my perspective was my mother, an avid fisherwoman. She’s also an ardent gardener who doesn’t tolerate anything that damages her beloved plants. As soon as she got out of her car, I led her over to my half-eaten fennel plants to show her my 50 plus soon to be swallow tail pupas.

The first words out her mouth were, “Are they good fish bait?”

Using these decorative bugs to catch fish hadn’t crossed my mind.  However, I have seen some lures at sporting goods stores that are every bit as brightly decorated as the guys currently devouring the greens I grew to tempt them into my flowerbed.

When I planted fennel and dill, I wasn’t planning on any lessons other than learning firsthand about the life cycle of black swallowtail butterflies. Despite this intention, this exercise has reminded me that nothing in life is simple. Everything we do is a matter of perspective, and that can alter something as unassuming as the mere change of a plant or the purpose for a worm. In my case, fennel is expendable. Tomatoes are not. Black swallowtail caterpillars are not fish bait. Earthworms are.