Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hornworm Nightmares

Being the "pest-imist" that I am, I'm always convinced that my garden is under attack from one insect pest or another.  I have therefore become pretty good at spotting many of these little evildoers, although usually not until they've destroyed most of what they set out to destroy while still having enough time left over for sex, thus guaranteeing that there will be another ten million of them for me to worry about next season.  That's why the other day, while walking through the garden, I stopped dead in my tracks when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted what looked like one of those big, thick, green disgusting tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) on one of my potted ornamental plants.  You see, it's tomato season and I've been having tomato hornworm nightmares every night so I thought maybe this was not so completely far-fetched.  Perhaps they've developed a taste for things other than tomatoes?  After all, their cousins (the equally disgusting Manduca sexta) eat tobacco plants even though I'm sure they know it's bad for their health. So, I immediately jumped to the only conclusion that an anxiety-ridden, sleep-deprived gardener could make, which was that the entire garden is now under attack from thousands of hornworms that will probably destroy everything from the asters to the arborvitaes.

But, on closer inspection I realized that if this was a hornworm, it was a new mutant form with some sort of strange proboscis (probably all the better for seeking out new and tasty plant forms).  So, I did what I usually do when dealing with hornworms:  I stood there for a few minutes gathering up enough nerve and then, while squinching up my face into that "oh yuck, I hate these damn things" look, I reached out to grab it.  

The unique pointed leaf tips of Alocasia 'Sting Ray' are even apparent in the new, emerging leaf at the bottom center of the plant.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I realized this was simply a new, emerging leaf on the bottom of one of the stems of the Alocasia 'Sting Ray' and not any kind of alien hornworm at all.  As I continued my walk around the garden feeling as though the world had been lifted from my shoulders, I thought..."isn't gardening wonderful?"  Until I got to the tomatoes.

Update-- Monday, August 6th

Just in case you think that bad dreams have little basis in reality, the first thing I saw this morning when I entered the garden was an almost completely denuded ornamental plant in a clay container.  But, unfortunately, this time the big ugly green things on the plant were not new emerging leaves but the real deal. However, the most amazing thing was that the two hornworms shown in the photo below were devouring every leaf, from the top down, on a Solanum pyracanthon. For those who don't know, Solanum pyracanthon has been described as a rare, wicked, mean and foreboding plant that, for its own protection, not only has strong, straight fluorescent orange thorns the entire length of its stems but all over its leaves as well.  Thorns that can pierce thick leather gloves like little hypodermic needles.  I know, you don't have to say it.  I'm sure right about now you're thinking..."why does this nut have a plant like that in the garden, anyway?"  Well, I guess I like prickly plants, but that's not the point (no pun intended).  The point is that hornworms must have very tough torsos, even tougher digestive systems, and will do anything to eat.  But an even more important point is that I need to pay more attention to the common names of plants because had I been aware that Solanum pyracanthon is also known as the porcupine tomato and is not only related to all other tomatoes, but also to potatoes and tobacco--yes, the favorite foods of these little creatures--I would never have brought a plant like that, with such tempting leaves and piercing thorns, within a hundred miles of their voracious little mouthparts!


  1. Delightful post. I can so relate! It is reassuring to know I'm not the only one who does these silly things. Here is your garden blessing. Take a lavender wand and waving it over your lovely beds recite: "May the demon pestilence avoid my domain entire!" Ta Da! Then you'll sleep better Joe.

  2. Thanks, Susan! I'm on my way out to cut the lavender sprig now.

  3. Joe...I am sitting in Da Lat airport, Vietnam.. in fits of giggles as I read your post to my family. I can appreciate every word, especially as I my father went to great steps to protect his tomatoes, every crazy idea imaginable...and they worked!
    Happy gardening!!
    Jeanne :)

  4. Hi Jeanne! So glad that I could bring a smile to you and your family across so many miles. Safe Travels! Cheers,


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