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Those @#$%&! Butterflies

Though curses aren’t usually the words usually associated with seeing beautiful butterflies soaring around your garden, if you are a home vegetable gardener or part of a community garden that donates produce to food pantries, there is one butterfly that you may dislike.

Large Cabbage White Butterfly on Cabbage

No, it is not the butterflies whose larval host plants are dill, parsley and fennel.  Many people who have butterfly gardens purposely grow extras of these plants as host plants for the butterfly larva. By following the rule “one for me, and one for the birds and butterflies.” you can have your share and the butterflies/caterpillars can have theirs.   However for vegetable gardeners, the sight of pretty white butterflies flitting around members of the brassica family (ex- kale, cabbage, mustard, turnips, etc) can mean only one thing:  an invasion of hungry larva caterpillars that will soon damage their crops.

Large Cabbage White Butterfly Larvae, note larvae color is green not pink as this photo shows

Cabbage white butterflies, also known by butterfly-lovers as “summer snowflakes,” are found in two sizes, the Small Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) and the Large Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae.)  The small cabbage white butterfly, though still considered an agricultural pest, is not as voracious a feeder as the Large Cabbage White Butterfly and will be the focus of this article.

The Small Cabbage White Butterfly is found throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa.  It was accidentally introduced to Quebec around 1860 and spread rapidly throughout North America.  By 1898 it had spread to Hawaii and by 1929 to New Zealand.  Often, one of the first butterflies to appear in the spring, it lays eggs on the underside of a leaf.  The eggs are laid singly and are yellow making them difficult to spot.  The eggs hatch after about five to fourteen days and then the damage to members of the mustard family begins.  Using their powerful mandibles, the larva munch holes in the leaves.  Sometimes they will even eat into the heart of a cabbage, leaving a shell in its place.  The larva then pupate, to start the whole cycle again.

Cabbage Damage Due to White Butterfly Larvae

Thankfully there are safe biological and barrier controls for this pest butterfly.  In the mid 19th century the Australian government introduced parasitic wasps to control the damage produced by both species of butterflies.  However this approach is only suitable for large commercial growers.  There are other insects however that can help.  These include ladybird beetles, lacewings, and some species of insect-eating birds.  A physical control might include covering the plants with mosquito netting or other barriers.  Be sure to secure all the edges.

Perhaps the easiest organic method of control is to use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a naturally occurring bacteria that kills a caterpillar but leaves beneficial insects unharmed.  When the caterpillar eats a treated leaf, it will get an upset stomach, stop eating, and die within four days.  Just be sure not to apply it in wet weather as the spray will wash off.

By using Bt or other methods of control, you should be able to “have your cabbage and eat it too.”

Carolyn Bush








Made For The Shade

Have you always wanted to grow a passion vine but have too much shade to grow the showy purple Passiflora incarnata?  Or perhaps you have a butterfly garden and are interested in providing one of the host plants for Gulf Fritillary, Julia and Zebra Longwing butterflies?  Well, if you don’t mind having a Lilliputian passion flower that is only about an inch in diameter, then Passiflora lutea is for you.

Passiflora lutea is also known as yellow passionflower, though the color of the flowers may range from chartreuse to off-white.  It is a native plant in Texas that blooms from May through September. In Dallas it is considered a perennial herbaceous climbing or trailing vine that can reach 15 feet in height.  Here it will loose its wide shallowly-lobed leaves in the winter but it comes back reliably in the spring.   The fall leaf color is a shade of yellow. Though considered somewhat drought tolerant once established, P. lutea prefers moist, rich soil.  Its flowers are followed by small black berries, which some say are edible but not very tasty.


Tiny Yellow Passionflower and Leaf From Carolyn’s Garden

I have P. lutea growing wild in my shady yard near White Rock Lake.  If I don’t keep an eye on it, the vines can grow rampantly in some spots.  However they are very easy to pull off from wherever they are growing.  I also have one pot of purple Passiflora incarnata and have noticed that the Gulf Fritillary butterfles tend to prefer to lay their eggs on P. incarnata rather than P. lutea.  However, one of my neighbors had P. lutea growing in her yard and had many caterpillars feeding on it.

One of the historic uses for the berries has been to make ink.  A recommended recipe is:  ½ cup of P. lutea berries, ½ tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. vinegar.  Crush the berries, and then strain the liquid through a fine sieve.  Then add the salt and vinegar.  Though this ink is not archival, the deep purple-black color is pretty

Yellow passionflower  is not often found in most garden centers. However,  Roseann Ferguson says that the annual plant sale at Texas Discovery Gardens will carry it.  The dates for this year’s fall sale are September 15-16 with the member-only sale taking place on the 15.  Many of their unusual plants sell out quickly, so get there early and consider becoming a member.  Further information about the plants that will be for sale will be posted on Texas Discovery Garden’s website ( closer to the date of the sale.

Carolyn Bush


Have you ever seen a butterfly laying an egg?

Thanks to our own intrepid photographer, Starla, for capturing a rare picture of a butterfly laying an egg.

Black swallowtail butterfly laying an egg on fennel

And here’s the egg-

Look for the creamy yellow egg located on the lower right of the picture

*Eggs are laid singly on the host plants—usually on new foliage and occasionally on flowers. Development time is variable depending on temperature and host plant species, but generally the egg stage lasts four to nine days, the larval stage 10–30 days, and the pupal stage nine to 18 days.


Ann Lamb

Picture by Starla Willis


Study up on our butterfly garden by looking at the right hand side of the front page of Dallas Garden Buzz under Raincatcher’s Resources for a list of hummingbird and butterfly plants or type butterfly in our search box for a host of articles on butterflies.


That Doesn’t Look Like Milkweed!

The milkweed section of the April Texas Discovery Garden plant sale is not for the faint of heart. Once the gate is opened, you’ve just got to get in there—elbows flying—and grab.

Turns out, this year we purchased an interloper that hitched a ride to the Raincatcher’s Garden with the native Rose, Common, Green, Green-flowered and Antelope Horns milkweed.  And this milkweed has been turning heads.

The green pods of African Milkweed

The green pods of African Milkweed

African milkweed Asclepias physocarpa or Gomphocarpus physocarpa was a mild mannered herbaceous plant with tiny white star-shaped flowers from August through September.  Then 3-inch pale green, round seedpods covered with soft hair-like spines appeared in October.  None of the Raincatcher’s volunteers had seen anything like it. The spiny pods will fade to red or brown and slowly split to release numerous oval seeds, each with a tuft of silky hairs to catch the wind.

Brown pods obviously

Brown pods with milkweed bug

African milkweed, which is also known as Balloon Plant, Swan Flower and Tennis Ball Plant, is an annual milkweed native to Africa. Its distinctive seedpods are often used in flower arrangements—or as conversation pieces in the Raincatcher’s Garden.


Pictures by Starla

Texas Discovery Garden Plant Sale, November 4th  for members, November 5th for the public. Information here.

Butterflies at The Raincatcher’s Garden

After many months of planning and work, our hopes are being fulfilled.  Butterflies are visiting The Raincatcher’s Garden and more are sure to come!

Pipevine Swallowtail on Lantana 'Miss Huff'

Pipevine Swallowtail on Lantana ‘Miss Huff’

The Pipevine Swallowtail is identifiable by the iridescent blue color on its upper side and the band of bright orange spots on its underside. Like the Monarch, this swallowtail is poisonous to predators, since its  caterpillars feed on native species of pipevine.

Gulf Fritillary on Mexican Sunflower 'Torch'

Gulf Fritillary on Mexican Sunflower ‘Torch’

The Gulf Fritillary is easily recognized by its bright orange upper side and flashy silver markings on the underside. The caterpillars that become Gulf Fritillary butterflies feed on the Passion Vine which we have growing over our Arbor.

Purple Coneflower 'Bravado'

Purple Coneflower ‘Bravado’

This variety of coneflower has large and profuse blooms. It is a host plant for several butterflies and a nectar source.

Black Eyed Susan 'Goldstrum' with Little Bluestem in the Background

Black Eyed Susan ‘Goldstrum’ with Little Bluestem in the Background

Little Bluestem grass is a host for a good number of skippers.  Black eyed Susans are also nectar and host plants.


To learn more about the planning and planting of our butterfly garden, read:

Butterfly Plants: I Love You But It’s Time to Leave

Dallas Butterflies

Browse the Butterfly/Hummingbird Plant List in our sidebar for excellent reference material.


Pictures by Starla




Variegated Fritillary on Salvia

Variegated Fritillary on Salvia

My side yard has a new unwanted hedge of plants in pots.  These are plants that should be planted in the new butterfly plot at the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills.  They are not. They sit in pots.  At my house.

The plants have been living in my side yard for two weeks.  They remind me of adult children who move back in for “just a few months, Mom,” and a year later you’re still sharing the washer with their yoga pants.

Using the butterfly garden plan, I made a list of plants required for that garden.   We needed almost 200 plants.

Plant sales are a little cheaper, but you have to know what you’re doing:

Get there early.  I am convinced most shoppers get up at 4:30 a.m. to line up two hours before the doors open.  If you’re pulling in the parking lot with your coffee in a to-go cup about 10:30, it’s not worth the drive.  The shelves are bare at that point.

Plant sales are the closest thing Dallas has to a crowded New York subway.  You’ve got to elbow your way to native-this and hard-to-find that  (saying ‘excuse me’ after each grab—this is, after all, The South).  My genteel mother would have been appalled.

Don’t kid yourself. A tiny old Prius will not be big enough for the drive back with your new acquisitions. You’ll have to beg your patient friend Judy-with-a-truck to pick up all the leftover purchases the next day.

Which brings us to why I have about 200 Plants In A Pot in my side yard, and why I know each of them intimately.

North Texas has been in a severe drought for six years.

I purchased the plants two weeks ago.  Six hours after I unloaded them to my side yard, I hauled them back into the garage because of impending “damaging 60 mph winds, hail, and possible tornadoes.” Out into the sun. Thirty minutes later, back into the garage. This has gone on for days. The plants are confused.  I am exhausted.

Last week I emptied 5 inches of rain from the rain gauge. It is too muddy to till the site for the new butterfly garden.  It is too wet to even think of planting.

The forecast is for 85 degrees and sunny today.  Severe thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow.


To read more about our Butterfly Garden Plans click here.

Picture by Starla

A Passion for Passion Vine

Passion Flower

Passion Flower

Though it doesn’t bloom until the heat of summer, usually long past Easter, the flowers of Passifloraceae are often said to refer to the symbolism of the Christian crucifixion, from which it gets one of its common names, passion vine.   The beautiful and unusual pink, blue, red or purple blooms are said to represent Christ’s passion. The 10 petal-like parts represents the disciples of Jesus, excluding Peter and Judas; the 5 stamens the wounds Jesus received; the knob-like stigmas the nails; and the fringe or corona the crown of thorns; while the leaves are reminiscent of the Roman spear; and the tendrils are their whips. However like many plants, the passion vine has other common names. The name Maypop, which is used by many Southerners, comes from the loudly popping sound that the hollow, yellow fruits of P. incarnata make when crushed.

     Passiflora is a genus of about 500 species of flowering plants.  They are mostly vines, with some being shrubs, and a few species being herbaceous.   In North Texas several species of passion vines grow well here.  The two most common passion vines found in area nurseries are the Texas native Passiflora incarnata (Maypop) and the Hardy Blue Passionflower, P. caerulea.  Maypop can withstand temperatures as low as 18 degrees F, while P. caerulea can tolerate temperatures to around 25 degrees.  Other species of passion vines are becoming more available; however most of these are tropical plants and should be either treated as annuals or brought inside for the winter.

Passion Flower Fruit

Passion Flower Fruit

      Though the leaves of passion vines have been used in herbal medicine as a remedy for sleep disorders, nervousness, and many other ailments by indigenous peoples and the fruit was a staple of their diet, today most gardeners grow the plant for its quick growing, vining qualities, beautiful flowers and as a butterfly host plant.

     In general, passion vines require full sun (though they can tolerate some partial shade), regular watering, and excellent drainage.  According to Scott Perry’s article, Planting Passion, in Texas Gardener magazine, a 10-5-20 fertilizer should be applied several times a year at four-to six-week intervals throughout the growing season.  However, overfeeding can cause root damage; and fertilizers too high in nitrogen can cause excessive foliage development and reduced flower development.

     Passion vines, which can grow up to thirty feet in a season and should be grown on a strong support, are remarkably pest free.  However there is one “pest” that can defoliate a passion vine quite quickly.  However, this same “pest” is the reason why many butterfly enthusiasts grow passion vines in their gardens.  The passion vine is the sole host plant for several Texas butterflies of the family Heliconius.  This family includes the Zebra, the Julia, and the Gulf Fritillary (a very common butterfly found in Dallas.)  The rather fearsome looking (but harmless to people) caterpillars, when feeding on the passion vine, derive some toxic compounds from the leaves. This, in turn, makes the larvae and butterflies somewhat toxic to predators.  Many butterfly gardeners either grow a large enough stand of passion vines so that some defoliation will not matter or relocate the caterpillars to a designated butterfly garden where the passion vine is grown specifically to be a host plant.

One More Picture of the Amazing Passion Flower

One More Picture of the Amazing Passion Flower

     If you are interested in planting a passion vine in your yard and “growing your own butterflies,” a very good place to purchase many varieties of passion vine is at the Texas Discovery Gardens ( plant sale.  This year’s sale will take place on April 18-19th, 2015, with the Members Preview Sale on the 17th.   It’s a great place to buy organically grown butterfly host and nectar plants as well as many unusual varieties of plants not found at most area nurseries.

     See you there!!


Pictures by Starla

Note: The Passion Vine at our Demonstration Garden flourished without fertilizer of any kind.



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