Devils in my Piedmont Landscape

Okay, actually, it was just one devil — a Hickory Horned Devil, to be exact. But it was certainly impressive enough to get my attention. See what I mean:

I discovered this creature devouring my coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’) vine that grows on a trellis near my front door one August morning in 2006. According to my “caterpillar bible” — Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner — this large caterpillar metamorphoses into a Royal Walnut Moth.

The book also tells me that this eating machine is supposed to prefer ash, butternut, cherry, cotton, hickory, lilac, pecan, persimmon, sumac, sweet gum, sycamore, and walnut. Many of those trees grow in my yard, and maybe more devils were hanging out on those trees.

But this one picked my lovely red-blooming native honeysuckle. Unlike the forest-mutilating invasive exotic Japanese honeysuckle, this woodland native is well-behaved, happily confining itself to a relatively small area. And the variety I grow — Major Wheeler — reblooms throughout the summer after an early spectacular flush of bloom in the spring.

I love my coral honeysuckle. So do the hummingbirds and butterflies. So when the Hickory Horned Devil invaded this vine, I considered removing it. I didn’t. It was just too interesting to watch this horned beast grow as it slowly devoured my sprawling vine.

It didn’t eat the flowers or flower buds, so the vine continued to bloom even as many of its leaves disappeared. The vine looked a tad unsightly for the rest of the growing season after the caterpillar disappeared, but recovered during the next growing season.

I think part of piedmont gardening should be gardening for all native creatures. Unless predator populations are horribly out of balance (one devil hardly constitutes a population explosion), my garden inhabitants can withstand some nibbling here and there. I think the ragged edges are worth the increase in species diversity.

And, really, how often am I likely to be able to say that I have a devil in my honeysuckle?

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