When I looked at our (Melianthus) honey flower the other day, the leaves looked strange. Come a little closer. MASSES of beetles. Each one delicately marked, like a medieval knight in shining armour. Bearing the crest of their company enamelled on the back plate of their armour. Have seen one or two wander onto the roses, but they seem happy to devour the Melianthus. This is a plant which flourishes along streams, and benefits from me watering the rose garden. There is enough to share, for the birds to have enjoyed the nectar, while the flowers were out. And for me to enjoy layers of wildlife gardening.
My medieval knight in shining armour, with his Rothschild
Facts which follow are taken from – Field guide to insects of South Africa, by Mike Picker et al. 2004
Spilostethus. Milkweed bug. Easily recognised by a red pattern on a black or grey background. There are 8 species distributed thru the non-desert parts of South Africa. Common and widespread. They like yellow daisies. They feed on the seeds of milkweeds (Asclepias). Minor pest of sunflowers, eating the green seeds. Also eat cotton, citrus, sweet potatoes, apricots and maize.
Monarchs are milkweed butterflies. Large, conspicuously coloured. The caterpillars are brightly banded, warning of their distasteful or poisonous properties. They feed on Asclepiadaceae, Apocynaceae and Moraceae. These poisons from the caterpillar’s diet, persist in the adult butterfly.
Insects which can eat milkweed, use the plant toxins to deter predators. Then wear warning colours. Don’t eat me. You will either be sick ... or die learning. And of course, other species hop on the band-wagon. Camp followers, who don’t actually EAT the poison, but wear the company badge. Secure in the knowledge that they won’t become LUNCH.
Asclepias has those beautiful lime green prickly seedpods – like giant inflated gooseberries, wonderful for the vase, if you are willing to compete against the wildlife! Other family members are – Ceropegia, Hoodia, Hoya (wax plant, from Southern China to Australia) and Stapelia.
Apocynaceae is the frangipani family. We have Carissa – which has thorns, to warn off people, and despite all this talk of poison – edible red plums. Impala lily (Adenium) is another family member. And Acokanthera – Bushman poison tree.
Moraceae brings us the mulberry, from China, whose leaves are eaten by silkworms. Anyone know if silkworms are just as poisonous?? Bit uneasy about wearing silk in future ...