Springtime, Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly and Tabbouleh What do they have in common?

By Wendy Diaz EMGV

I was about to replant my two front porch flower pots with summer annuals and harvest the parsley (Petroselinum crispum) in the pots now that the warm weather is upon us when I was surprised to see brightly-colored caterpillars eating my parsley in one of the pots. This time of year the wintertime pansies (Viola wittrockiana) are wilting because pansies grow and flower best at temperatures below 65 degrees F[1] and the parsley is about to flower.

Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) in flower pot. Photo by Wendy Diaz
May 4, 2021

Last fall, I decided to plant edible parsley as the ‘thriller’ element in my fall pot arrangement for a change and used the parsley throughout the winter for a garnish or seasoning in our dinner casseroles. I also thought this scented herb would deter the deer from munching on my pansies. Well, that did not work. The deer (or a very tall rabbit) ate the pansy blossoms twice over the winter but left the pansy plants in place to flower this April. It was a great spring for parsley, however, and it almost took over the pot so I had enough to harvest the sprigs for a Tabbouleh (or tabouli) salad, which I like to make, from both pots when I saw the caterpillars on the parsley in the upper pot. I decided to share with the caterpillars and harvest only the parsley from the lower pot and let the eight caterpillars that I counted have the parsley in the upper pot. 

Two flower pots on front step. Caterpillars ate parsley in the pot on top of steps. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz May 5, 2021

The caterpillars, also known as parsley worms are the larva stage of the Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)[2] and they feed on several plants of the Apiaceae family like parsnips, celery, carrot and of course parsley. They grow quickly and within about 10 days from hatching from their tiny spherical eggs they find a place to pupate to form a chrysalis. From about 7 days or longer the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalides. In North Carolina, two to three generations of these butterflies emerge each year.

We made two large Tabbouleh salads from my harvest of the winter annual pot on my front door step. It is a great salad to make this time of year especially if you have abundant mint in your herb garden, which I do (Gardening Hint: Plant mint it in a pot to contain it from spreading.) My husband enjoyed the salads and he was grateful that they didn’t include any ‘caterpillar caviar’. I will have to wait a week until the caterpillars are finished eating before I plant the summer annuals in my pots. We look forward to seeing Black Swallowtail Butterflies in about two weeks time after they emerge from their chrysalis[3,4], which will be something different this spring as we often see their look-a-like, the Spicebush Butterfly in the garden. I hope you enjoy the recipe and consider planting parsley in your flower pots this fall.

Left: Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly underside of wing Photo courtesy of Susan Mahr Division of Extension Wisconsin4 Horticulture Right: Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly enjoying nectar from mint flowers. Note there is no orange spot located above third blue patch on the Spicebush Swallowtail Photo taken by Wendy Diaz July 31, 2020

Tabbouleh Salad[5]

1 cup medium bulgur

2 cups boiling water

Combine in a large bowl. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain in a sieve, pressing with the back of a large spoon to remove the excess moisture and return to the bowl.


4 large ripe tomatoes, finely chopped

2 cups fresh parsley sprigs, finely chopped

1 cup packed fresh mint sprigs, finely chopped

1 bunch of scallions, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Stir in:

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Whisk together:

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup olive oil

Add to the bulgur and toss to coat. Spoon the salad onto a platter and surround with:

1 head of romaine lettuce, separated into leaves, washed and dried

(I skipped this step and put it in a bowl)

Serve at room temperature.

 Tabbouleh Salad Photo by Wendy Diaz on May 2, 2021


[1] https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/viola-x-wittrockiana/

[2] https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/parsleyworm

[3] https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/butterflies-in-your-backyard

[4] https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/black-swallowtail-papilio-polyxenes/

[5] Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker; Scribner, 1997