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Missing Leaves

All of us, urbanites, enjoy the fluttering of butterflies in our immediate environs. It brings back childhood memories of chasing a butterfly while on a picnic with family or when playing with friends in the neighbourhood park. It seems to bring out the child in us and also somewhere deep down establish that ever diminishing connection with Nature.

As we grow up, we learn a lot more of butterflies and their lifestyles during the biology class. But, all this learning is lost somewhere in the process of growing up and becoming “successful”. Yet, many of us indulge in a bit of gardening to keep in touch with Nature. Some of us even spend considerable time watering and tending to plants in our gardens – be it a sprawling one (a luxury in today’s cities), a kitchen garden, a terrace garden or for that matter even a few potted plants in the balcony of our apartments (seems to be the norm of the day!).

Most of us are working hard to make ends meet and are “free” only during the weekends. This is the time to enjoy a late morning cuppa and to immerse oneself in the many Sunday newspapers. Catching a recent movie (blockbuster or otherwise), eating out and some weekend shopping are all in order.

During the week it is the duty of the maid to keep the garden alive. Over the weekend, if and when we find a little time from all other activities we tend to devote to the garden. During this time, if we see that a leaf or two is damaged, we even go to the extent of using pesticides, insecticides and such chemical concoctions to keep the plants in our little gardens “healthy”. This is not without cursing the maid under our breath for negligence. We indulge in all this, without even trying to find out the reason behind the damaged foliage. Also, we have not been around enough to chance upon the reason for the few damaged leaves.


If only we observed a bit more carefully and applied what we learnt during the biology class, we would realise that the leaves have often been devoured by caterpillars. These caterpillars are the result of the eggs laid by the lady butterfly when you were away at work. These would eventually go on to become pretty butterflies. If this realisation sets in, we will desist from using the chemical potpourri that kills the larvae, not giving it a chance to become a pupa and then eventually a butterfly.


You may ask me – “Why should I spare the caterpillars that eat up my plants”? Just think, go back in time – wouldn’t this small act help relive our childhood memories? This said, it does not harm the plant if a few leaves are gobbled up by hungry caterpillars. They have after all lived together for millions of years. However, if you are worried that the leaf cover may go down, then move things around and add one more plant to your garden! Believe me you will not regret it because they more than compensate. Wouldn’t this also help bring to life our environment and re-establish that connection with our roots – Nature!

It is worth, even if it means that this revelry is possible and restricted only to the weekends when we are out of our air-conditioned offices.  You can also derive immense satisfaction when you chance upon a butterfly resting on the plant in your garden.  Or for that matter, when you admire the freedom of spirit symbolised by the delicate beauty of the butterfly fly past while waiting at a wretched traffic signal. May be, while you are enjoying your cuppa on you balcony amidst your plants, you may be treated to the incredible transformation of a caterpillar changing into a pupa or an adult emerging from a pupa that remained hidden from your sight during all the time you spent with the plants. All this is reason enough to give life a second chance to co-exist with us in the chaotic urban landscape.

Just give it a thought. You will suddenly realise that you have a lot in life to catch up on in the rat race that all urbanites seem to be running!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/radha-clicks/ Radha

    That’s quite a thought provoking note Karthik. We all tend to ignore such simple things around us. A leaf plucked off the shrub during a casual walk in the garden can actually destroy a life or two. And they matter so much, in the large and small scheme of things.
    Maybe we all should work at not harming and if possible, protecting urban wildlife.

  • chandu

    So true! I hardly came across a kid who is not fascinated by butterflies! I read somewhere- We (humans) take so much from nature that we should let those other creatures, which are part of nature take their share. Compared to what we take from nature, it’s miniscule that they consume!

  • Geetanjali Dhar

    Thanks again, for this article…henceforth will think and act in my garden…….

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  • Divya

    We run a nursery of native tree species. We have a lot of herbivory too. But we find that these plants “attacked by pests” almost never die. The recovery with renewed vigour and stronger!

  • http://birdsonthebrainetc.wordpress,com Uma

    Karthik, I will never forget the blue tiger that had just emerged from its pupa and was drying its wings when you showed it to us at Bannerghatta during our NTP! I need to learn to ID caterpillars and pupae… Lovely post, as usual! Thank you!

  • http://deponti.livejournal.com Deepa Mohan

    An eye-opener…and possibly a butterfly-saver…of an article!

  • http://shivanidiwani64.blogspot.com/ shivani

    Thanks Karthik…agree to all that u have to say…through words and also through what u do best…ie through visuals.
    This time however i am more carried away by ur words. Next time i see these creatures creating uneven holes on the foliage i shall not curse them…maybe i’ll think kindly for these wriggly but brilliantly colored vegetarians.:)

  • Rajalakshmi

    True , nature is a home for all living beings..big or small,weak or strong..no one particular type can lay claim for existence to the exclusion of any other,however unpleasant it may be.Nature also knows how to keep a check on its creation.”Live and let live “should be the mantra for all.Thanks once again for reminding us of our “natural duty”

  • http://anveshane.blogspot.com deepak

    Yes. “Right to Live” should be there for every creature.. I have noticed this our garden too..
    Every year this happens with just a kind of plant in our garden (Nanja battalu as we call in Kannada).. and now I have started enjoying the birds who come in search of food.

    As rightly pointed out… these plants, inspite of losing all leaves .. bounce back and start flowering again :-)

  • http://backpakker.blogspot.com lakshmi

    I was butterfly gazing all this afternoon at home in Madras – I should thank you Karthik for showing me the world that didnt really exist for me…a wonderful post as always

  • http://sumsarena.blogspot.com Sumana

    This is a wonderful post!
    Every word there is true! Yes, we should realize that the world is not just of Humans but of millions of other creatures and man infact is an intruder there!
    Also there are these Avenue trees (honge mara) in our layout, and every year in spring when the new leaves are born, one of the trees are attacked by some thousands of caterpillars (i dont know what exactly they are..) and all the leaves are gone in about a week, after which another tree or two get attacked. But after losing all the leaves, the trees again get back the leaves a couple of weeks later, and seem stronger!
    The birds do have a treat with so many caterpillars then and so do we, birders!

  • Kishen Das

    Thank you for all your wonderful insect articles. Hope someday you will put together all your nature notes in the form of a book.

  • Saandip

    Wow..not describing a subject, but like a story with importance embeded so softly..love the words you use to narrate.. thanks for sharing..

  • Hrishikesh

    I was always wondering how on earth these caterpillars end up in my garden , that too in HUGE numbers … Now I know the reason :) and I would continue to do what I have been doing and that is letting them be the way they are, where they are. Thanks for the eye opener :)

  • Uma Jagannath

    Just stumbled upon this wonderful post. Thought I’d share my own little story here. Four summers back my daughter aged six was recuperating from a surgery and one kindly neighbour managed to source a butterfly kit from ATREE(comprising eight plants – larval hosts and nectar producing flowering ones). As the summer progressed, the potted plants in the balcony began buzzing with activity and caught my daughter’s fancy. Each stage was beautiful and enchanting to all of us. Finally, on many beautiful mornings, we were greeted by a freshly-emerged butterfly drying its wings! Little miracles of nature are waiting to be explored all around us, all the time!