More than a collection of color and collaboration of texture and form, a garden is the base for life. Providers of pollen, donators of nectar, and deliverers of foliage, plants are foundational partners for biodiverse ecosystems. Insects, as well as other wildlife, are direct beneficiaries of the botanical bounty, frequently repaying that bounty with their own pollination and reseeding gifts.
This green gathering of groundcovers all serve as fuel for others in my garden’s seasonal story.
The plant with the petite sky-blue flowers is a Leadwort plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. It meanders through several areas of my garden, dollops of blue attracting small native sweat bees. The bright green, lobed foliage at bottom left of the photo belongs to Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, which is currently not blooming. Its fuzzy, lavender-blue blooms will be available for the late summer/autumn migrating monarchs, as well as for a wide variety of other butterflies and bees. The groundcover with the charming clam-shell, variegated leaves–the majority plant in this particular group–is a White-veined Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia fimbriata, a common non-native host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor.
Alongside some dainty pops of blue on the plumbago, the White-veined pipevine feeds Pipevine caterpillars, like the chubby fella below. This year I have enough of the pipe vine that the cats haven’t completely denuded it as they munch their way to adulthood, but they certainly have eaten plenty of leaves to the stems.
Once the caterpillars eat their fill and morph through their various instars, they follow their chemical signals and settle in a place to metamorphize into a different form of themselves. This one strung itself to the limestone just outside the frame of my back door. It traveled far from its feeding place to get to this spot and I wonder: why here, adjacent to the door? It’s an open spot. potentially vulnerable to predators, less hidden than on a plant, like a stem or an under-leaf. Chrysalises are much better camouflaged in the garden than attached to an open wall. Nevertheless, the caterpillar was resolute in its choice, working to moor itself there on its journey to a new, winged self.
The caterpillar also chose to begin changing during a stormy 48 hours; it strung its string, but remained in the J formation through that cooler, wetter period.
In time, the chemical changes happened, the chrysalis formed, and it remained stationary–though not static–for almost two weeks. The chrysalis emitted light and color as it transitioned, sometimes golden, sometimes green, sometimes dark, but always a little different from the day before.
I missed the debut of the adult, having overslept a bit during the premier morning; butterflies emerge with the sun’s rise; gardeners, not always. At 8am, it was there, drying its wings, waiting for the right time to take flight.
The butterfly did fly later that morning, though I’m not convinced it was entirely ready. I bumbled out the door, focused on some back garden chore, and the startled insect winged its way off of the limestone and over the garden, the remaining drops of its successful chemistry experiment scattering in the sunlight.
I’ve left the shell of the transmutation in place, the remnant of caterpillar observable in form, the memory of brilliant butterfly in warm, gauzy colors.