Sunday, June 24, 2012

Native Plants vs. Non-Native Pests

Several years ago I purchased a native Missouri vine, Passiflora incarnata 'Wild Passion Flower,' off craigslist from a fellow gardener that lived in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Ozarks...  This was one of those times when you realize too late that you probably shouldn't have gone alone to a stranger's house, but fortunately I didn't end up in the newspaper headlines and I had finally found the native variety of this vine! 

I had searched for the vine at local greenhouses and plant sales, but because it's late to emerge in the spring it was never available to purchase at the annual native plant sale held in April. The vine is sometimes referred to as "Maypop"--because it "pops" up in the garden during the month of May. Actually, it "pops" up everywhere--the roots spread aggressively and it has become somewhat invasive in my garden.

The purple flowers, which appear in June/July are unique, showy and fragrant. Fleshy, egg-shaped, edible fruits called maypops appear in July and mature to a yellowish color in fall. Ripened maypops can be eaten fresh off the vine or made into jelly. The leaves of the vine are also the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly which is why I searched so fervently for this native vine to add to my butterfly garden.

Here's my dilemma...  A few years ago a non-native insect took up residence in my gardens--the infamous Japanese Beetle...  These beetles feed on about 300 species of plants, devouring leaves, flowers, and overripe or wounded fruit. They usually feed in groups, starting at the top of a plant and working downward. The beetles are most active on warm, sunny days, and prefer plants that are in direct sunlight. A single beetle does not eat much; it is group feeding by many beetles that results in severe damage. Unfortunately, the most effective way of getting rid of Japanese beetles is to hand pick them. It's time consuming, but it works, especially if you are diligent.

On my property they're everywhere, but they have their favorites: the apple trees, blueberry bushes and blackberry brambles...  In my butterfly garden they have taken over my Passion Flower Vine and I've also find a few on the Pawpaw trees. 

Here's what I've decided to do...

Even though the passion vine is a native Missouri plant that I went to great lengths to find, I'm going to remove it from my garden. Why?  
  • I planted it as a host plant of the larva of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly and I have never seen this variety of fritillary in my garden let alone its caterpillar.
  • I've tried eating the fruit and it's not appetizing.
  • I hate Japanese Beetles and it's attracting them to other plants in my garden.
What about the Pawpaw trees? They're staying--they are the host plant of the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and I found my first tiny caterpillar under the leaves of one of the small trees!

What do I do in the meantime to control the beetle infestation?--I feed them to the chickens!


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