Can you see it, the monster poised to munch my Scorpion pepper plant to nothing? It is manduca sexta, the tobacco hornworm. I can never decide if hornworms look scary or cute. This one didn’t seem so bad. We didn’t even toss it on its pointy little horn. Joseph, my husband, simply cut the branch and moved it to another part of the garden. Now, however, I’m on the lookout not only for the same caterpillar but others as well.
There is also a tomato hornworm, manduca quinquematulaca, which resembles it closely and also defoliates plants of the nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) of vegetables.
Both turn into large moths. I do like and enjoy the moths these fat green blobs turn into. They become Sphinx moths, also known as hawk or hummingbird moths. I’ve seen these moths in most of my gardens over the years. They look very much like hummingbirds, hovering over nectar plants, and they are good pollinators. But do I like them enough to willingly allow the caterpillars to defoliate what’s left of my summer garden? Probably not, but life in the garden is wonderfully varied and interesting.
I plot and I plan. I work under dangerous conditions. I am frequently under assault. At times, I might drop everything and run for cover. I strive to work towards the greater good.
Gardening in southeast Texas can be brutal. Heat, humidity, and potentially disease-carrying mosquitoes are problems for more than half the year and a dangerous combination in summer. That’s to say nothing of fire ants and other biting, stinging insects. Snakes, too, although they only make a rare appearance in my little garden. Poison ivy and oak are common and birds sow both generously.
Despite some uncomfortable conditions, I feel very protective of the wild in my garden. It’s important to know friend from foe, for example, venomous from nonvenomous snakes. Even then, it’s often not necessary to engage.
As for the bugs, it is not fine with us to hurt the good with the bad. Pesticides are banned. So are herbicides. Our beds, whether food or ornamental, are organic. And while our garden isn’t entirely native, we do have plenty of native plants that please the local wildlife as well as ourselves.
While every garden is different, they all offer challenges, pleasures, time with nature. Much like people, they have their good days and bad days, high seasons and low; and they can all be fun and beautiful if you love them enough.