Tufted caterpillars

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Vapourer moth (Orygia antiqua) caterpillar on strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)

I spotted this stunning caterpillar munching away on the strawberry tree that I planted last winter. When I looked it up I found that it is, I think, a vapourer moth caterpillar. Everything I read suggested that these caterpillars feed on deciduous trees, especially fruit trees. So I thought that it must have fallen down from one of the neighbouring trees. But looking more closely, I noticed three of its shed skins on the undersides of the strawberry tree’s leaves. So it would seem it has completed its caterpillar life stage here, quite happily eating the strawberry tree’s evergreen leaves. In total, this one caterpillar has eaten less than one leaf. I read that they are “no longer a significant pest in orchards because of the use of insecticides”…

I also spotted another tufted caterpillar on a snowy mespilus shrub (Amelanchier lamarckii). It’s not as impressive as the vapourer, but still quite striking. It too is a moth caterpillar, this time of the grey dagger (Acronicta psi).

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Caterpillar of grey dagger moth on snow mespilus

It always puzzles me that many people say they like butterflies; but they think moths are somehow less nice; and caterpillars are purely pests.

 

 

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Privet leaf miner damage

Following the winter’s damage, I’ve been keeping an eye out to make sure the privet bushes recover OK. By and large, they are doing just that. However, I’d say some are a little weaker than would be usual, but it’s hard to tell. One thing I have noticed though is a surge in the amount of leaf miner damage.

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Damage on a privet leaf caused by leaf mining caterpillars (Gracillaria syringella)

The damage first shows as brownish marks on the leaves. They quickly expand to become a large brown blister. By this stage the blisters are easy to pull open and inside there are little tribes of larvae living a sheltered life between the upper and lower leaf surfaces.

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Inside the blister there are little tiny caterpillars – they’re quite hard to see and to photograph because as soon as their blister is burst they try and wriggle away to hide

These larvae will grow up to become tiny little micro moths – Gracillaria syringella. As the name suggests, they also mine lilac (Syringa) leaves and are known as lilac leaf miners as well as privet leaf miners. There are plenty of them on the lilac bushes this year too.

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Leaf miner damage on a lilac leaf
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…and here are the larvae inside the lilac leaf’s blister

 

Metamorphosis

At the end of last summer, the caterpillars of the large white butterfly (Pieris brassicae or cabbage white) left their food plants in the garden and went marching en masse. Most of them marched right out of the garden: they climbed sheds, walls and fences, seemingly knowing where they were heading. But one of them choose to stop and pupate in a stone outhouse where I keep ladders and various bits and bobs.

Throughout the winter, I’ve been careful not to knock the chrysalis off. And for the last few weeks I’ve been watching for “it” to happen: for the butterfly to emerge. Today was the day.

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This was the pupa on 12th May: it was starting to change colour and plump up
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This was first thing this morning (19th May). The wings are clearly visible, squished up against the side and the whole thing looked fit to burst – which it was!
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Here it is, freshly emerged – the empty case that the butterfly crawled out from is towards the bottom, just left of centre

I know it is “just” a cabbage white, and something of a pest, but I am awestruck by the complexities of nature and very happy that this one survived the winter 🙂

 

Winter damage: privet

The first two weeks of March were very mild here, spurring some plants on to make early growth. Fresh growth on privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) was particularly noticeable. But then, the third week of March brought a week of frosts and freezing winds.

It was at the beginning of April that I started to notice wilt and blackening on privets. My first thought was that it must be cold damage.

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Wilt and discolouration of new growth on privet, April 2017

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But then I wondered whether it might be something worse. It seemed the more I looked, the more I found wilting shoots of privet. I found them on all ages of bushes – from last year’s cuttings to gnarly old hedge plants – and on plain and variegated plants. I found them at the bottom of bushes and at the top; on plants that were pot grown, and plants in the ground. You can see in the pictures that one shoot would be wilted whilst its neighbour seems to continue in rude health.

In the end, it is the fact that the problem is so widely spread, especially that it is in pot grown cuttings as well as plants in the ground, that makes me think it must be cold damage.

For now, until I am sure that winter has finally gone away, I am leaving the dead shoots on the plants and will trim them over when better weather finally arrives.

 

Cork oaks: assessing winter’s damage

Winter has been long and fickle this year. Mainly, I’d say, it’s been drier and colder than usual, with fewer storms. But between the cold periods there have been unseasonably warm spells (up to 20C); between the dry spells there have been huge rain storms; and between the calm spells there have been some ferocious and freezing winds. Tipyn o bopeth (a bit of everything) really and quite challenging in the garden.

The young cork oaks (which are now two and three years old) have mainly suffered from the tortrix moth caterpillars, as per usual.

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Tortrix moth caterpillar damage on cork oak

But in addition, they have also been being eaten by some kind of leaf miner…

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Leaf miner and freeze damage on cork oak

and the younger trees have suffered a little from the lack of moisture and freezing winds – showing in the orangey-bronzey tints you can see  in the picture above, alongside the dull buff colour where the leaf miners have stripped the living cells.

However, I’m happy to say, that they all seem to have come through OK and have plenty of new buds for this year’s growth. Hopefully winter will soon go away and they can put on some strong new growth through the summer.

Currant blister aphids

The the new leaves have recently unfurled on a redcurrant I bought over the winter. And the leaves have bright red blisters.

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Discoloured blistering on a young redcurrant leaf

These blisters look like a text book image for currant blister aphids. Sure enough, when I looked at the underside of the leaf, there was a big fat aphid with a brood of babies…

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Redcurrant leaf with blistering and aphids

These bugs must have come in as eggs on the plant. According to the RHS, the aphids need to move to hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) plants to complete their life cycle: they’re uncommon plants around here, so this could be the end of the road for these aphids, depending how far they can travel. The damage the aphids are doing looks impressive, but is really of no consequence.

Tassels!

This beautiful little tassel tree (Garrya elliptica) was bought last autumn. It’s only a baby, and possibly it shouldn’t have been left to flower so prolifically. But it looks just beautiful, especially now the sun is shining.

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Tassels (male flowers) on a baby tassel tree (Garrya elliptica), January 2017

The tassel tree, or silk tassel tree, grows to around 4m tall with a similar spread – so it’s more like a big shrub really.

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Through the tassels

Tassel trees are mainly grown for their attractive catkins (tassels) that brighten up the darkest time of winter. Incidentally, the male and female catkins are borne on separate trees: you want a male tree for the best catkin display. These trees are also quite hardy, down to about -10C, but like all plants, they’re more tender when they’re young.

(The blotches you can see on the leaves are most probably fungal and came with the plant from the nursery. It was over dry and overly pot bound, meaning it was stressed and consequently vulnerable to infestations / infections. Hopefully in the coming year with a bit of pruning and good watering and feeding it will grow away from the fungal infection.)