The Mystery of My Frangipani Tree

frangipani caterpillar
Frangipani Caterpillar

There is a large native frangipani tree growing just off of the deck of my house. Its been there a long time. A piece of rusty barbed wire is embedded in the bark of the tree trunk, which means it was here and large enough to support a barbed wire fence back when Chocolate Hole was dedicated to the raising of livestock. There’s also a concrete animal watering trough nearby. So we’re talking about a tree that’s been there for at least 60 years.

I’ve been living in this house for about 15 years and I’ve only seen this tree with full grown leaves about a dozen times and only twice have I seen it produce flowers. This is because as soon as the leaves even begin to grow, frangipani caterpillars appear and devour the new leaves in a matter of days.

In theory, the caterpillar is supposed to wait until the leaves are full grown and the tree flowers. At that point they eat the leaves and fertilize the tree with the after products of the digestion.

I understand this relationship and how both the tree and the caterpillars can survive. What I don’t understand is how this particular tree has survived so long with hardly ever being able to produce leaves, which I imagine would be essential for photosynthesis and the production of food and energy for the tree.

Next time around I think I’ll pick the caterpillars off the tree and see what happens.

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