Saturday, November 1, 2008

Garden Tea-Party ... Butterflies invited

You are cordially invited to the Hornets' Tea Party.

Date : October - November
Time : Sunrise to sunset
Venue : The Pink Cassia tree (Cassia javanica), Mumbai
Dress code : Wings compulsory

Vespa tropica
(Greater Banded Hornets)

Every year, my Pink Cassia trees are the venue for the biggest party in all of insect-dom. In October, the Greater Banded Hornets get to work, chewing and gnawing at the bark of the Pink Cassia until they drill small holes.
They have a whole swarm of flies supposedly helping them, but mostly just looking on. Really! its so tough to get good help these days!

(Dont mess with them, these guys are huge! )

The frothy sap that trickles out seems to send a "come one, come all" call to all the insects in the neighbourhood.
Some ( like the Common Castor ) wait politely till the hornets are done

Others (like the Common Baron below) try to sneak a sip while their hosts are busy at work and not looking.

Others indulge in a bit of push and shove!

This being a classy event, the aristocrats showed up too. They, of course, stuck to themselves and were overheard commenting on the Cassia Sap served. The Baron (in brown) loved his drink, but the Common Nawab (wearing a dash of green in his ensemble) sniffed and said the Cassia Sap of 2007 was much better. This year's Sap lacked a bit in bouquet in his opinion.
He flicked his wings for a waiter to refresh his drink but the waiter was already too deep in the cups to notice.

The Baron got a bit too tipsy and was seen flirting with a Blue Oakleaf. She danced with him and then flew off. It's rumoured that she is seeing one of the Hornets secretly. Watch out, Baron!

By evening, the Common Evening Browns showed up and were seen catching up on family gossip.

A few butterflies who were not on the list were spotted looking very miffed! The Grass Yellow hid among the shrubbery. "How will I ever show my face again?" she cried.

The Hibiscus bush was the hiding place for this gorgeous beauty. I wonder why she was left out?

The Common Sailor, on the other hand, lost his way and couldn't make it to the party!
"No one told me that Mumbai is actually good ol' Bombay," he cursed. "I've been travelling and didn't hear about the name-change" .

A great time was had by all and the hornets were lauded for their hospitality. No one throws a party quite like the Greater Banded Hornets, everyone fluttered contentedly. The Hornets buzzed happily.

P.S. The Baron was spotted sneaking back ...

Someone really must do something about his drinking problem!


  1. Fantastic photos. I really dont like the look of those hornets

  2. Those Hornets look pretty scary!
    Delightful post (apart from the scary hornets)

  3. I'll take a table in the butterfly section, but not next to the hornet table please. They look like rowdy partiers. It looks like the hornets would be providing the security for this party too, evicting the party crashers in casual dress.
    Your garden is teaming with life. I always think of certain plants as being butterfly magnets, but your cassia tree is the largest butterfly banquet I've seen.

  4. What a delightful post! Your garden looks so lush. But the butterflies take the cake, teamed with the colourful fun descriptions. And the variety! Amazing! I haven't seen that many different kinds in my yard till today. Enjoyed every bit of your post Sunita.

  5. The photos are excellent. The commentary is par excellence. Congrats.

  6. I enjoyed this post...great story and photos to go along! One thing here in the woods...we have more hornets than I care for!

  7. Sunita - Let me offer you the Arte y Pico award for your blog ... because I like your pictures and your style of writing. Do see my post November 2

  8. Patient Gardener, Karen... those Hornets were perfect for Halloween, dont you think?! Scary is just not strong enough to describe them!

  9. Northern Shade, I think you're right! There were a couple of Drongos and a Paradise Flycatcher hiding in the nearby cashew tree waiting to snap up any unwary guests. I think the hornets made them keep a discreet distance, though.
    Its funny that the same cassia tree doesnt seem to elicit even a casual stopover at other times of the year.

  10. Lush? Its just wildly overgrown, Kanak. But I'll accept your term, it sounds so much nicer and garden-like ; )
    I loved seeing so many butterflies obligingly posing for me. But there were so many more who were just not interested in Cassia Sap. It was really frustrating because my fingers were itching to get them to sit still and pose!

  11. Raji, thnk you so much for the kind words as well as the award. I'm so honoured! Really!
    Like I told you on your blog, I'm not going to ask you "are you sure?" : )

  12. Thank you, Maiji. It's a pleasure seeing you over here on my blog. I'm so glad you liked my post.

  13. Thanks, Kim. I had to scroll through many photos of various hornets and wasps before I could ID my Greater Banded Hornets. NOT my idea of fun! And then I discover that their sting can be fatal!! How foolhardy can I get? Luckily I dont see them around at other times of the year.

  14. Hi Sunita, this is a fantastic post. I adore how the Insect world transforms into persons with your words. I would have loved to attend the party but I was to late. I would have loved to make the aquaintance of the Baron!
    This post is one big Hit!.
    I love the pink Cassias but they have never want to grow well for me. I could send you seedpods of the Erythrina if you want some.
    It is not a very big tree, about 5 m high but spreading.
    Thank you for your kind comment.

  15. Those shots of hornets are amazing, great detail!

    - Evan

  16. that was one heck of a party! all the vip's were there!
    thanks for coming by my blog.

  17. : D Trudi, I really enjoyed myself writing this one. Just looking at the photos made the story fall in place : D
    The Baron is a real character! I love that photo where he's running in to sneak a sip when the hornet is not looking.
    Are you serious about the Erythrina seeds? I think the tree and its flowers are just too gorgeous!

  18. Thanks, Evan. I still cant believe how foolhardy I was though! Of course, at that time I hadnt read that bit about their sting being fatal. Nor about how a single sting releases a chemical which prompts other hornets to add their bit too. Gaaak!

  19. Marmee, that was funny, wasnt it? BTW, they really are called Common Baron and Common Nawab ! It was such a coincidence catching them in their own private clubroom!

  20. beautiful butterflies sunita we call those hornets jack spaniards in Trinidad and wasps in Barbados. We do not have many here.

  21. Looks like the Garden Tea Party hosted by the Hornets was a great success. What a whimsical post today Sunita. I enjoyed it very much. ;)

  22. Interesting, Helen ! I wonder how they got that jack spaniard tag. We have identical-looking insects which are commonly referred to as 'wasps' here but they're much, much smaller. These guys are really big! If you see the photo where there are a couple of houseflies next to the hornet, you'll know what I mean.
    Are your wasps as big as these? If they are, then lucky you for not having too many around ; )

  23. Racquel, I had so much fun writing this post. It must be something in the air and the changing seasons which got me into this mad, whimsical mood. But the story just fell into place when I looked at the photos.
    p.s. the party is still rocking! I havent seen the Blue Oak leaf but all the other characters, including the Baron, are still partying!

  24. Sunita!!!! Fatal???? I bet you were not wearing the proper gear either to be near them. But we do appreciate you being the party photog, and giving us all the latest dirt on the butterflies too. Splendid, splendid post!

  25. Frances, I was just the sole representative of the papparazzi, hanging outside hoping to click the guests when they least expected it ; )
    As far as proper gear goes, only four thick, windowless walls between the hornet and myself will do, I'm afraid. And yes, they do deliver fatal stings, I read. Just looking at them can raise your b.p.!
    But then, I share my garden with various deadly cobras, a few vipers, some vicious centipedes and a couple of scorpions. So what're a few more hornets?

  26. I'm totally charmed by this post! and the photos are wonderful.

    I have a yellow cassia tree (a Golden Wonder Senna) and its just finished blooming. It attracted some very large bumblebees and beetles...

    I would love a pink cassia too!

  27. That is QUITE the tea party indeed! Good thing they let you come and document all the drinking. So cool. Is the sap very sweet?

  28. Anne, the Golden Wonder looks gorgeous doesnt it? No wonder all the insects made a beeline for it (okay, thats a terrible pun, sorry)
    A Pink Cassia tree in full bloom (in May here) is a spectacular sight!

  29. Tina, I would have tasted it if I werent so scared that I may start flying (I'm terrified of heights)!
    The paty seems to be winding down finally. I dont see so many butterflies around anymore. Just the Common Barons (yep! they're still around) and a few more.

  30. ooh i loved the post
    its so refreshingly different than what i usually read these days
    and oh, i am adi and i came here from raji's place
    she has joined us together in her november 2 post
    wishing u many more tea party's ahead

  31. Hi Adi! Thanks, I'm so glad you liked the post. It was one of those fun-all-the way posts... at least until I read the menacing truth about the hornets!
    Maybe you could attend the party too and read out your lovely poetry ?
    Raji took me by surprise, but you have to say this for her ... she's a very discerning blog-buddy! ;D

  32. Hello Sunita! I see I'm late for the party. Even the morning-after hangovers are probably over and done with by now :)
    Oh well, I'm glad you documented it well so that I haven't entirely missed the fun.
    Your photos and dialogue are absolutely delightful! :)
    What a wonderful variety of butterflies you have there.
    You were rather brave getting such good shots of those huge wasps. I'm so glad you didn't get stung! I'm sure after reading that their sting can be fatal you're breathing a sigh of relief too!

  33. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this blog entry especially. I'm quite it was a gala party for the hornets! Awesome!

  34. O my! how I wish I could attend the party, but alas! i am yet to grow some wings. Thank heavens anyway that I could be privy to all the lovely tea time gossip there; one couldn't have missed it for anything.
    I admit that was one of the most interesting posts I have read anywhere till date.

  35. I suppose you decided to call it a " Tea Party " and not a "Cocktail party", because the Sun was still up when it was done? . Tina's doubt on its taste,- Similar to a good 18 year Old intoxicant? See how the Baron is getting back at it.
    Really enjoyed the post-look forward to more such posts coming regularly

  36. Sorry I'm replying a week late but I was away dancing with the hornets and as you can imagine, that takes a lot of concentration!

    Hi Kerri! Its great to see you made it (in the nick of time) for the party. Nope, it isnt over yet though the more interesting guests seem to have left. But the Baron is still hanging around!
    I'm glad you chose to say 'brave' rather than 'foolhardy' or just plain 'dumb!' I have to admit that was what was going through my mind when I read about the fatal bit.
    What on earth could be even more dumb? Why, that I tried prodding a butterfly to open up his wings ... just centimetres away from a very suspicious hornet! Aaargh!

  37. Thanks Chandramouli. The party seems to be such a great hit among the winged ones that they've made it an annual affair. Every year, October - November.

  38. Ha! Chetan, good to see you commenting here (should I be saying, "what! here too!" ? )
    You're right, the "cocktail" tag would've been much more appropriate since there was so much of the fizzy stuffy flowing. But this party started at dawn and so it seemed a bit inappropriate. I'll make sure to pass on the suggestion to the hornets, though.
    Frankly, I have no idea whether it was an all-night affair too because the mosquitoes took over by evening and I beat a hasty retreat. I definitely didnt want to be on the menu!
    The Baron is a real character! He's still at it and seems to be bringing his friends over too.

  39. Green Thumb, forget the wings. The paparazzi can get by without them. Maybe you could join me next year : )
    The gossip! They still havent stopped talking about the Baron! And, I wish I could find out more about that mysterious uninvited beauty.

  40. I made it flower myself as I bought it in a bad state. Thanks for your comment, I love all your lovely photos and wish I lived in the same climate but maybe without the monsoons. At least it isnt freezing cold like here in Cambridge.x

  41. superb post! loved it!

    you have a lovely blog here!

  42. Wow! Emma, that's fantastic! I'm very timid with Phals. And as any orchid growers knows, thats absolutely the worst approach.
    Why dont you like the monsoons? I absolutely love that time of year (so would you if you lived in a hot, humid , tropical land) ... I must've been a plant in some previous birth : D

  43. Hi, Magiceye! Great to see another Bombayite... er, Bombay-wallah... umm, Mumbaikar ... oh! I give up! Mumbai resident, over here : D
    And, thanks for choosing to follow The Urban Gardener.
    BTW, I'm curious, do you get to see these butterflies in your part of Mumbai too?

  44. Well written narrative...I like it!! Incidentally, hornets are nasty enemies of bees. Recently, there was a film on one of the wldlife channels where a band of hornets completely annhilated a beekeeper's hive. But the bees are capable of mounting their astonishing defence. But that is deflecting from your interesting garden observations. Cheers, Kiran Srivastava, Mumbai.

  45. Thanks, Kiran! :)
    I saw the docu that you're talking about. I didnt sit through the full thing but reached there just in time to watch the hornet beheading the bees. Gruesome!

  46. I'm not a great party goer, but I would have loved to have been there! It must be fantastic to have so many butterflies visit your garden. Good old hornets for hosting the party and encouraging so many guests!

    1. LOL! Just a bit of whimsical nonsense, Nick :)
      Yes, we have quite a few butterflies here but this October - November time is extra-special. Especially with the cassia sap luring even more.


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