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A Wonderful Surprise on Our Bronze Fennel!

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Last spring we planted some Foeniculum vulgare, also known as Bronze fennel, Copper fennel. It is considered an herbaceous perennial herb. As perennials go it is short-lived, but reseeds easily. To be honest we don’t use much fennel but I do like adding it to soups and sometimes fish. I am thinking about drying some and seeing about adding it to my tea mix.May 2014, planted in March.

May 2014, planted in March.
The real reason I bought it was I like how it looked. I see now that I am doing a bit more research on it I need to make more room for it to grow. It is currently tucked into the corner of the veggie bed surrounded by rosemary.Bronze fennelI am sharing it with you today because Shawn came upon the most amazing sight a few days ago. The fennel was covered in caterpillars. As it turns out Bronze fennel is one of the favorite host plants for Swallowtail butterflies and while in their caterpillar phase they love feasting on fennel. I like the taste too so I can relate.Swallowtail caterpillars What attracted me to this plant was the fine-textured foliage and the dark and rust colors it turns. It does have that sweet licorice flavor and can be used in place of green fennel in any recipe. I think it makes a great fill-in plant and would like to use it in more of our cottage garden designs. Near summer’s end it puts up stalks covered in tiny yellow flowers. Last summer I noticed the bees enjoying this fennel. I am going to make a note to self to collect seeds this fall so I can see about having fennel in more places around our garden.Swallowtail caterpillar 2It loves full sun and generally wants to be 3-6 feet tall and 1 -2 feet wide. It is good in zones 4-9 and while it prefers rich well drained soil it is drought tolerant. Explorers from Spain in the 1600’s traveled to the new world with seeds from herbs and plants they wanted to grow. Fennel is native to Southern Europe. In my reading I found out that this is how Sweet Fennel came to be distributed along the Kings Highway (El Camino Real) which connects the 21 missions of California from San Diego to San Francisco. I remember it as a child growing in neglected fields and in the back country where I used to hike. I grew up thinking it was a weed but now it is one of my favorite herbs!
And now that I know the Eastern Black Swallowtail and Anise Swallowtail love this plant I am going to recommend it to people desiring wildlife attracting gardens. The butterflies actually lay their eggs on the fennel so that the caterpillars can have easy access to food as soon as they hatch. We have not figured out where the caterpillars have gone to form their cocoons, perhaps in the dense cover of the rosemary.

I found this site Explore Cornell – Home Gardening helpful. If you want more on growing fennel check it out, here.

Happy Gardening!

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