Years ago, when I moved from an apartment to a house and began to consider gardening, my mother gave me some books on butterfly gardening. At the time, neither of us understood the importance of geography in determining the appropriate plants. So when I spotted bronze fennel in a local garden center, after reading that it was a featured plant in Winston Churchill’s butterfly garden, I had to have it, never considering that what worked in England might not work in Maryland, with its different climate and different butterflies..
As it turns out, the fennel has done very well over the years, putting up tall feathery fronds that occasionally find their way into soup. And as luck would have it, here in Maryland the Black Swallowtail butterfly is very happy to lay eggs on the fennel, and its handsome caterpillars seem happy to eat it.
Is that ok? Should I worry that I am somehow weakening the local native butterflies by offering this exotic diet? Based on my limited research to date, the native hosts for this butterfly sound like they need wetter soil than they will find in my yard. In addition, some of them are poisonous plants that I would not want to plant within reach of neighboring toddlers. As far as my little patch of Maryland is concerned, I’m inclined to keep the fennel, but I’ll continue to research the natives as well. Maybe I’ll find a good addition to the garden.
In the meantime, the fennel is coming up nicely.