Cabbage Palm Caterpillars

Dec 16, 2017

Credit SC Public Radio

Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. We like to think of nature as being in balance and generally native plants can survive feeding from native insects due to coevolution.  Bee keepers who want to produce palmetto honey  have to move hives into coastal areas thick with sabal species, unfortunately they fairly frequently have poor yields when the cabbage palm caterpillar, the larva of an owlet moth, has large outbreaks. Unlike most Lepidopteran larva, these caterpillars don’t eat the palmetto leaves. Instead, they feed on the flower bud that would have become a beautiful inflorescence, several feet long, containing hundreds and hundreds of perfect flowers. Although the plant itself is not harmed, specialty honey producers can suffer severe financial losses during these outbreaks. The small hard fruits that form from unaffected flowers are an important wildlife food eaten by squirrels, birds, raccoons and even bears.