Thursday, July 1, 2010

Days of Wine and Droppings

I listened to him snore for a long time and then I stopped listening to him snore and listened to the silk-worms eating. They ate steadily, making a dropping in the leaves.
~Ernest Hemingway, "Now I Lay Me"

And that sums up what's going on in our little world this week (well, unlike Nick Adams we're not sleeping on straw on the floor, but otherwise . . .). The worms are back and they're munching away audibly - it's mostly the droppings you hear, or feel - if you're forgetful and walk beneath the trees!

And what are they eating? The leaves on our catalpa trees.

Catalpas are beautiful and strange. They have broad, heart-shaped leaves, lots of white blooms in spring, and in early summer these long beans (9"+) begin to grow. They're a bit like giant green bean trees at this stage.

And around July 1 each year, the catalpa sphinx caterpillar invades and begins defoliating. Within a week or two the leaves will be totally gone - leaving the bean and bare leaf 'skeletons'. Then the leaves begin to grow back and the whole process repeats.

The caterpillars are prized as fishing worms, and, consequently, catalpas have been planted since the 1870s just for the "worms" - click here if you're the kind of person who likes details about creepy crawlies or here if you'd like to start your own worm farm. Despite the worms, catalpas are wonderful trees and you might like one in your own garden - one word of caution though, the bean pods turn brown and drop so be prepared for a bit of raking!

And that's my worm-tale for this Thursday! Hope you're getting ready for a great July 4th weekend - just don't walk under the catalpas . . .


  1. Fascinating...and the trees don't seem to suffer from it.

  2. We have several catalpas on our property. I really love them. But I haven't noticed the worm - when I get back home this week, I will have to investigate!


  3. Leah-

    I didn't know about catalpa worms! Maybe we don't have the sphinx moth up here. When I went to grade school eons ago, the street it was on (named Catalpa) was lined with catalpa trees. We knew school was almost out for the summer when the sweet-smelling blossoms would drop. When the seed pods would darken and fall, we pretended they were cigars. I wish catalpa trees were more widely planted up here! They are so unusual.


  4. Claudia & Pam - Perhaps trees in other parts of the country aren't 'infested' like ones in the South. Hmmm, something to investigate. And Pam I like the image of the seed pod 'cigars' - I'll think of that when I'm picking them up next fall. How nice to have a whole street lined with them.

    Christine - I never thought the trees were harmed, but now that I know not all trees are defoliated each year I wonder if they'd be healthier without the sphinx!


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