Family Jewels– Hairy Balls– Asclepias physocarpa and the Swallowtail Butterfly


Is this too funny? This plant is in the milkweed family. You can see why it got the name hairy balls. It is native to southeast Africa and often towers at over 6 feet high. The plant produces clusters of tiny white and lavender-pink flowers. Balloon-like seed pods appear in September and October. The plant attracts Monarch butterflies for egg-laying. I planted it thinking it attracted the Swallowtail butterfly—my bad. The Swallowtail butterfly prefers citrus leaves. It lays tiny eggs that hatch into little larvae that looks like bird poop. Last year, I naively thought it was bird droppings and as a result they ate all the new leaves and we didn’t get any fruit. My attempt to save the citrus trees from being devoured has failed as you can see by the pictures. I hope this Oro Blanco tree is now mature and there are enough leaves to produce flowers and fruit. Time will tell. My friend Monica the biologist gave me the scoop on the lifecycle of the Swallowtail butterfly. She explained how the larvae eats and eats and then wants to get as far away from the citrus tree it has been feeding off of. Sometimes traveling quite a distance. Well sure enough look at the last few pictures. I couldn’t believe that this caterpillar made it off the citrus tree, across gravel and onto the stucco wall of our porch. Later that night it attached itself just like this with a thin strand. I was able to get some photos. Now I wait to see if it will emerge as a butterfly in 18-20 days or possibly overwinter until spring. I hope the birds don’t bother it. We have our own little National Geographic episode going on here in Dales Garden. 

Prepupa of the giant swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes Cramer.




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