Sunday, September 20, 2009

A gardener's dilemma

Such a tiny, innocuous-looking pearl.
Glistening new and perched precariously on the down-slope of the freshest, limpest, thinnest leaf possible.
So fragile, it looks like the slightest shiver of a capricious breeze can send it careening down into oblivion.
But just what am I getting so ecstatic about? Let's rewind, shall we?

In my garden, I often run and stalk and chase after butterflies to get a photo of the exotic creatures who visit my garden. One of the most elusive of these 'winged rainbows' is the beautiful but very unimaginatively named Common Mormons.
Elusive? They're masters in the art of tantalising and then flitting away before I could get my camera fixed on them.
Mata Hari could've learnt a thing or two from them!

Just when I think I've got close enough for a good shot they're up and away again, their very flight hiccuping with laughter (at me, no doubt!) .

Rarely, very rarely, I manage to get a shot which though not good, still tells me why I find these creatures so fascinating. Now, if only they would sit still!

Finally, I did manage to get one to do just that! Not in my bigger garden but in my miniscule, chewing-gum- sized kitchen garden (which is just a fancy name for a collection of pots placed in the window box-grilles) in my apartment.
This lady would've waited as still as a rock . You see, I think I'm one of maybe just 2 people growing Curry Leaf plants in this apartment block.
And she needs them. Oh yes, she does!

I've got you now, my beauty!
Mine to watch at will. Your babies will soon be my models. Earth-bound, as much as you are flighty and elusive.
Mine to photograph and capture every single day till they break free with their fresh new wings. And still they'll pose for me for hours until their fragile wings are strong enough to shatter the strong grip of the earth. And they'll fly free ...

But this leaves me with one big dilemma... what'll I do when that tiny, innocent pearl turns into the world's biggest eating machine! Should I let them be and watch my Curry Leaf plant ruthlessly chewed and stripped bare of all foliage ?
Or should I squish them now before they're grown? Forget all my visions of watching these beautiful butterflies?

I'll tell you what I did ... this morning I got myself a new Curry Leaf plant !


  1. OOOh Sunita what a pretty butterfly and caterpillar! It is so much fun to watch the whole metamorphosis taking place. Please post more pics of this when it becomes a chrysalis. I would love to see the chrysalis. The best time to take photos of butterflies is just after they have emerged and when they are hanging drying their wings. Just as their wings are dried you can put you finger for them to crawl onto and they will. You can then put them on your face or your head or anywhere as a matter of fact, photos are a breeze to take then. They will remain there until they are sure that their wings are completely dried opening and closing them. Butterflies emerge very early in the mornings between 6.00 am and 8.00 am I have even rescued a few who have had a difficult time coming into the world by playing midwife and picking up those that had fallen due to strong winds before their wings had harden. If they fall and cannot find a place to crawl to hang, the wings will harden in a crumpled state and thus making them unable to fly. Hubby will normally destroy them immediately than to see them suffer.

  2. What serendipity! Just this morning, we saw scores of these mormons and common crows, at the Guindy national park!

    Great to see the egg and the caterpillar as well!

    You'll be a adding a lot of curry plants at this rate!!

  3. oh how lovely... what pretty pics... and I like the pearl... very impressive!

  4. Sunita girl ! You did make me smile this morning : )
    I have had "curry scented plants" and they are amazing .. but you can always get another especially in a situation like this .. EXCELLENT choice : ) Hope all goes well on that little nursery plant : )

  5. Ha ha...Sunita, I held my breath when you mentioned the squishing part. I was going to leave a comment and say "No! No squishing! Just get another plant!"

    Beautiful pictures. They really are gorgeous butterflies.

  6. Bravo! Just what I was going to tell you to do...and if you need to, get a couple of more! When they are chewed to pieces...welll...

    Why do you think I tolerate the common milkweed in my garden, even though it is 6 feet tall and's because it is the food for the monarch butterfly. :} The lengths to which we will go. . .

  7. Hi. First time visitor here. As a fellow writer first let me say that your writing is superb. "Strong enough to shatter the strong grip of Earth." Well done.

    I'm not familiar with the common name Curry Leaf but I was going to say that I don't think caterpillar pillage will kill the plant, just set it back a ways. But I think your idea is genius--purchase another one.

  8. Lovely story, beautiful pictures!

  9. Helen, it is much prettier in real life. My photos just haven't captured their beauty well enough. Of course, I'll post photos of the chrysalis. If they reach that stage, that is. The earlier batch didn't, unfortunately.
    There is an interesting in-between stage where the larva looks exactly like bird poop! As you can imagine none of the birds are interested in it at that stage.
    I can just imagine how amazing that must be, to have a butterfly crawl on to your fingers! Thanks for all that added info, Helen.

  10. Did they sit still for you, Flowergirl?
    Yes, lucky I have a forest of curry leaf plants in my other garden :)

  11. Thanks, Patricia. Would you believe that the 'pearl' became ever so slightly streaked in 2 days time, just before hatching? Very interesting!

    Joy, I knew you would understand! :)
    BTW, I'm amazed that you've even seen the Curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii) there in cold Canada. It is a notoriously temperamental plant which sulks the minute it steps foot outside the tropics.

  12. I think that was a given, Water Roots :)
    I just cant deprive myself of all that beauty, can I now?

    Lisa, oh yes, I know exactly what you mean! :)
    Luckily I have a forest of curry leaf lants in my other garden so I can always get more.
    The monarch is beautiful! It looks so much like our Striped and Plain Tigers.

  13. I would run out and buy a Curry leaf plant if I thought it grow and support such a beautiful caterpillar and butterfly. If they left me some I could even cook with the leaves. But neither scenario is very likely (sigh). I'm looking forward to seeing more of yours. Fascinating.

  14. Thank you, Grace. It's always very encouraging when my fellow-writers show their apreciation of my posts. And I hope I'll see you here again soon :)
    The Curry Leaf plant (Murraya koenigii) is widely grown in India to use as a seasoning in almost all our curries (hence the name, as you may have guessed). The inimitable flavour is obviously favoured by the Common Mormon larvae too. This particular plant was just recovering from an earlier batch of Common Mormon larvae which had stripped the plant of all foliage. I dont think I had any other option, did I ?

  15. Thanks, Sheila :)

    Stephanie, it looks like we are more like-minded than I thought! :)
    Don't worry I'll keep you posted with regular updates.

  16. Sunita, my great Tusitala , the story of the curryleaf plant and the most elusive butterfly, how wonderfully exciting. With that green monster munching its way through the curry leaves do you really think one new plant is enough? (I enlarged it, the monster)

  17. Hi Sunita! I love this post! What a great solution, buying another curry plant! I've learned to let the caterpillars eat, knowing the plants will normally recover.

    I like all the photos, even the less clear ones, but my favorites are the one with the butterfly holding stiller, and the one of the caterpillar.

    I have gotten behind in my blogging. How have you been?

  18. Trudi, I can't tell you how excited I am to see your comment. Firstly because its always such a pleasure to see you here. Secondly, your reference to Tusitala had me Googling away like mad to find out just what it meant (silly me! I should've thought of just asking you). And now that I know it means "Teller of Tales" that's a new high for me :) :) :)
    Thank you!
    That photo of the green monster as you called it, is from an earlier generation. The current batch of 2 larvae are still in the bird-poop look-alike stage. But it does look fierce in its green avatar doesnt it?

  19. Hi Sue! Its so good to see you here again. Don't worry it happens to all of us at some time ... Life takes over and blogging has to be kept aside for more leisurely times. I've been fine, thanks for asking :)
    I was just that bit more worried about this plant because it was still recovering from being stripped bare a couple of weeks ago.
    I'm glad you liked the photos :)

  20. What a terrific post! I'm going to look for a curry plant of my very own. I'm sure no caterpillars like yours will show up here to eat it. I'll look forward to the "to be continued" on this post.

  21. What a creative post! I love your pics and story. I think your solution was the best - just buy another curry plant. How simple was that?
    Happy gardening!

  22. Sunita, your are way ahead when it comes to catching butterflies. I am never able to photograph the bigger ones because they are never still. Once there was a stationary one and this was because it was laying eggs. That's when my camera batteries conked out! I have only been successful at the caterpillar stage now and I am always left with an empty souvenir after the butterflies have flown off. I guess I'll try to heed Helen's advice and see how it goes. Meanwhile I wish you luck with the babies.

  23. I wish you luck, Becky. If you do get a Curry Leaf Plant, make sure you keep it in the warmest and sunniest spot you've got.
    Of course, I'll add updates :)

    Thanks, Wendy! Luckily, I didnt have to buy one. I've got a mini-forest of Curry Leaf plants in my other garden so its just a matter of carrying it over.

    Okay, Mridula. That seems to be the unanimous choice here among all my readers :)
    I think this is just going to reinforce my neighbours' idea that I'm totally eccentric, though!

    Isnt that terrible when your camera battery conks out just as you're getting ready for the shot of the year!
    If you're getting the empty chrysalis case at least you know that its inhabitant is flitting around somewhere. Mission accomplished. Even if you didn't get to watch it. Better luck next time!

  24. Words fail me, Sunitha.
    We all know that these are common things that we might see around us everyday. But it takes someone special like you to make us realize that even though we have eyes, we are truly blind.

    By the way, I still can't believe there are leopards in Mumbai as well.

  25. This post made me smile! I loved the solution to your "problem"!

  26. Oh Sunita, when you wrote the word squish I gasped! You are very resourceful and solved a sticky problem the very best way possible. Buying new plants is always a good thing. :-)

  27. Sunita, your post reminds me of my childhood. We used to get boxes, punch holes, gather caterpillars and put them in, feed them leaves of their choice and watch them metamorphose into gorgeous butterflies. Great pictures!

  28. Oh yes, Bindhu, we don't notice so many things going on around us, especially at the insect-level.
    And yes, there really are leopards in Mumbai but they're in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park which forms one of the biggest green belts in this over-crowded city. I find that such an amazing fact... which other metropolis in the world has a wildlife park right slam bang in the middle (well, almost) of it?
    There was an unfortunate incident some years ago when a man-eating leopard scaled the Park walls and killed a child.

  29. I knew you would like my solution, Kamini ;)

    Yes, that was rather ruthless-sounding, wasn't it Frances? Sorry! But I'm glad my solution seems to have met with everyone's approval. I wondered whether most would think I was being a wimp.
    And yes, I agree. Getting new plants is a great thing, indeed :)

    Urban Green, you must've had such a charmed childhood! You sound like you had real fun.
    I'm afraid I was a bit of a sissy when I was a child. Firstly I would rarely see what was happening around me as I always had a book in front of me. Secondly, if I ever saw a caterpillar I think I would've run a mile. There were way too many of the fuzzy itch-making ones around for my comfort! :P

  30. I have the same issue with my Passion Vine, now covered with Fritillary caterpillers gnawing away at my purple beauty...and I'm on the Inside Austin Garden Tour in a month...I must admit, I've been moving them to other plants in the garden! Next year, they can have it!

  31. I, on the other hand, chase these winged beauties out of my container garden. A couple of months ago I was admiring these beauties only to find a few days later that my poor plants had lost a lot of their leaves to the nasty crawlies that followed the visit of the butterflies. Orange and black striped these crawlies had taken over my garden until I picked them up one by one and tossed them out, hesitating to squish them. My plants are safe - for now - but I have taken to chasing after butterflies. Sounds odd, rude and crude but true in my world today. I have taken to gardening just a few months ago and didn't realise until recently butterflies are pretty looking saboteurs.

  32. Uh-oh! That must be tricky, CG. Unless, of course, you present the passion vines as part of your butterfly garden ;)
    I wonder what it is about the passion vines that make them so very attractive to butterflies?

  33. Parijat I really had to laugh at that picture of you shooing away butterflies!
    A new garden ... that explains it! Dont you feel a little bit like a new mom?
    I'm glad you didnt squish them though. I think Nature expects that a lot of caterpillars are never going to make it. That's why there are so many of them in each batch.

  34. Sunita what a wonderful story and yes it is a dilemma. I must admit that I did kill a few of those eating machines this summer but I didn't like it at all so next summer I'll let them live. The caterpiller that is the slugs on the other hand has to go.


  35. Dont forget the snails, Tyra. They've definitely got to go too.

  36. Sunita, how lucky for you to have babies in your window garden. I am so glad you went out and got the second plant. Hopefully you'll have enough to share when the caterpillars hatch. :)

  37. Loved your post, Sunita! I could never picture you squashing a butterfly, besides, just one more reason to buy another plant for your collection. Your butterfly reminds me of our Swallowtails...very pretty!

  38. That was my plan, Jessica. My first plant was already stressed out because another batch of larvae had been feeding on it a couple of weeks before this.
    I wanted to lure them on to the second plant and give the first one time to recoup.
    And yes, its fun watching them everyday and seeing the changes taking place literally before my eyes.

    Hi Kim! Its so good to see you here again :) :)
    You're right. I dont think I could squish a baby butterfly no matter how ugly it looks or how destructive it gets.
    And of course, any reason for a new plant is a good one ;D
    They do look like Swallowtails, dont they? They have the same scalloped and curvy-pointy hind wings. I really like them.

  39. Hi Sunita,
    Heres to one of my fav. bloggers ... an Award for being ONE LOVELY BLOG ... hope you'll pick it up ... @ ...


  40. Rajee, you really do have a knack for saying and doing the nicest things. Thank you so much! :) :) :)

  41. Mine to watch at will. Your babies will soon be my models. I would have felt the same and bought a new curry plant :)

    Another beautiful post!!

  42. You have to admit they really are supermodels in every sense of te word, IHM ;D

  43. Sunita... I just wanted to tell you... I have seen hummingbirds in Kerala...

  44. Hi Anonymous! Thanks for writing in . I thought there were no hummingbirds in India ... could it possibly have been a Sunbird?


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