Monday, July 2, 2012

Multicultural Labors

Yes, we now have some: Milkweed. More specifically, we have an Asclepias incarnata. The Latin name is much more elegant than the English; in English it’s  Swamp milkweed. As the illustration shows, the Latin is more fitting. Asclepias is elegant. In my first attempt to acquire it I was rebuffed. The lady at the store gave me “that look”—the same one I got at a computer store anciently when I walked in and asked: “Have you got a computer that comes attached to a typewriter?” I was one of those barbarians from the typewriter culture knocking on the gates of Egypt where they’d discovered mysterious machines. The lady told me, after about my third insistent question, “In all my years in this business”—and her hand swept a two-acre display of every imaginable plant—“I’ve never seen it sold.” Now I’ve left my naiveté  behind about fifty years ago. I drove off to the next place. There another lady looked at me quizzically from beneath a huge straw hat. She nodded. She led the way. “Monarchs,” she said. “You’re after Monarchs.” It was now my turn to nod. Instant intimacy. Asclepias incarnata, as she named it—and sure enough the stick-in-the-dirt label also spoke of monarch and swallowtail—gave her an idea. “I’ve got a couple of caterpillars on some fennel here,” she said, and she led me to another place. Sure enough. Fennel. The caterpillars might have been monarchs, but with emphasis on might. I bought the plants, of course. We parted amiably; she returned to her weeding tasks. On my list remained additional dill. We have three more Swallowtail infants growing, and they have to be fed. But this store’s stock was totally exhausted. I went across the street to another garden store—the smallest of the lot. I already knew the lady there. “Dill?” she said. “Disaster!” But she showed me the misery that still survived. Well! At once I saw a dill plant on its last leg—with yet another and larger caterpillar—this one most definitely a Black Swallowtail. We got to talking. “Monarchs?” she asked. “Why—you ought to get you some, let’s see, Asclepias incarnata. They love it. It starts blooming in July.”

Now its been a few days. Brigitte and I daily inspect our total population of six caterpillars. They all now seem to be spitting images of earlier Black Swallowtail larvae. But we do have Asclepias. Its flowers, when they emerge, will be a lovely pink. In due time we shall have achieved multiculturalism at Rancho Mariposa—and our population’s on the rise.

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