While working at Native Landscapes Garden Center every day, you tend to notice some interesting insects where their host species are native plants. A few that I always look for are the Tulip Tree Silk Moth, the Spicebush Caterpillar, and the Great Spangled Fritillary.
The caterpillar in the above picture is the Tulip Tree Silk Moth. I first discovered this caterpillar a few weeks ago. It has grown from a small caterpillar barely able to fill up the leaf, to a mature giant, taking over the leaf with its long body from eating Black Cherry leaves. On the same plant, sleeps another Tulip Tree Caterpillar morphing into its moth form. Prunus serotina or Black Cherry is a host to many native species of insects and also provides food for birds and wildlife. It can grow to be 50 to 80 feet tall and produces showy white fragrant flowers from April to May. Black Cherries prefer full sun but can tolerate part shade and average to medium well drained soils.
The Spicebush Caterpillar pictured to the left with its black “eyes” mimic the look of a tree snake to scare away hungry predators. When this caterpillar chrysalises, it turns into the Spicebush Swallowtail, a beautiful black and blue butterfly. The Spicebush is one of the earliest flowering understory trees in the Northeast forest with yellow flowers sprinkled about the tree before the leaves emerge in spring. When the leaves are crushed it produces a spicy lemon aroma which is its own natural deer repellent. The dried berries from this shrub have been used as a substitute for all-spice.
The Great Fritillary is another native insect that enjoys nectar particularly on Echinacea plants. The Fritillary host plant are young Violet leaves in the spring. They gather nectar from native plants such as Coneflower, Milkweeds, Ironweed, Mountain Laurel and Joe Pye Weed. In late summer and fall the Fritillary lay their brown eggs on violet leaves where they over winter, hatching in the spring.
As always remember to grow native plants in your gardens because it is important to support all our local wildlife . When maintaining your gardens, be careful what chemicals you spray. Only spray when there is an infestation of insects and use environmentally friendly products or sprays you can make in your own kitchen.