There’s a rather nice vegetable garden here at Great Chalfield, tucked away behind stone walls and a little off the main visitor route. One of my neighbours, a super-fit vegan and bio-surveyor, spends hours up here growing substantial amounts of his own food – and, it would seem, cultivating a fairly relaxed attitude towards wildlife that also have a taste for veg and greens.
I say this because I popped in to the garden this afternoon and my eye was almost immediately caught by a planting of Solomon’s Seal Polygonatum sp that was looking decidedly nibbled around the edges. It just had to be the work of the larvae of the Solomon’s Seal Sawfly Phymatocera aterrima.
Most gardener’s absolutely loathe this and other sawfly species and do everything they can to get rid of them – from picking the larvae off when they’re still small to drenching the plant in insecticides. Why? Because like most larvae (they’re ‘caterpillar-like’ but only Lepidoptera (moths and butterfly) larvae are called caterpillars incidentally) they’re eating machines, quite capable of stripping a plant down to the stems in a matter of weeks. And they feed in packs. I could almost hear the larvae in the images below as they munched their way through the Polygonatum.
- Adult Solomon’s seal Sawfly are black, 8-9mm long, and emerge in late spring at about the time the host plant is coming into flower. The female uses her saw-like ovipositor to insert rows of eggs into the leaf stems. The larvae initially make small elongate holes in the foliage, but as they increase in size their appetite also increases. The fully grown larvae go into the soil where they overwinter and pupate in the following spring. Defoliated plants survive but may produce reduced growth in the following year.
As I said, most gardeners really don’t like sawflies. Personally, I find them fascinating (at least, I do now that I know they exist). To be honest I’m not a fan of the Solomon’s Seal plant myself (at least when it’s away from a woodland setting – it’s a bit bland sat in a flower bed), and the ‘pest’ status accorded to the sawflies by every gardening website I looked at just now seems hypocritical frankly.
These insects are ‘pests’ because they strip a few plants of their foliage. Isn’t that exactly what we humans do on a terrifyingly vast scale across the planet every single minute of every day so that WE can eat? Don’t the nation’s gardeners alter huge areas of habitat just so that they can grow plants that would actually normally be found in woods, the Alps, China, or South America? And don’t we spray enough herbicides and pesticides on the planet as it is without those same gardening websites recommending yet more profits for the chemical industries – and all just to get rid of a handful of larvae that are only doing what we do anyway?
I don’t suppose that’ll be a popular view, but it’s what I think and popularity’s overrated… *blogger shrugs shoulders and walks off into the distance shaking his head*