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NATURE’S TURN: Unwelcome cabbage white butterflies and dreaded cross-striped cabbage moths

Until last year, the imported cabbageworm – a soft, slightly fuzzy green worm – was the only cabbage-family pest most of us had experienced.

July 15 – 28, 2019

Cross-striped cabbage moth. Image courtesy CBG Photography Group

Mount Washington — Have you spotted romancing white cabbage butterflies? Also known as the adult phase of the imported cabbage worm, they have recently re-appeared for the season all over our region, scouting our gardens for cabbage family plants on which to lay their eggs. White with one or two black spots on their forewings, the cabbage white has a wingspan of 1.3 to 1.9 inches. As I write beside my garden, Pieris rapae is fluttering feverishly in and around the garden: This insect is diurnal, i.e. active during the day. Earlier, a pair danced together in flight, courting. For gardeners and farmers, that dance announced that, if not accomplished already, strategies must be in place to protect a major group of food plants, the brassicas, from being eaten by several different predators.

Imported small white female. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Until last year, the imported cabbage worma soft, slightly fuzzy green worm – was the only cabbage-family pest most of us had experienced. Although a nuisance requiring constant attention, the worms can be picked off plants and killed before they inflict lethal damage. Everything changed when, at the end of September 2018, I found the broad leaves of one of my kale plants riddled with holes. There was nothing left to eat! Voracious, dark-appearing, smooth worms with yellow stripes down their sides were finishing off the plant. I found out that the offenders, identified as cross-striped cabbage worms, had arrived in New England from points south due to warming temperatures. The adult is a nocturnal moth with a wingspan of about one inch.

Imported small white male. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Looking forward to robust harvests ahead this season, I am anxious to protect beautiful, maturing Romanesco broccoli, Russian and lacinato kale, young red cabbage plants and just-seeded turnips. I purchased row cover designed to exclude insects and I refreshed my memory of folklore that recommends dusting moist plants with rye flour or cornmeal to kill worms that ingest it. I am also considering bacillus thuringiensis and insect netting. See Resources, below, to learn more.

Insect-barrier fabric secured around brassicas, July 8, 2019. Photo: Judy Isacoff

To keep up with current conditions, I interviewed Susan Scheufele of the UMass Extension Vegetable Program. She confirmed the challenges ahead regarding Evergestis rimosalis, the cross-striped cabbage worm, that, based on the Vegetable Program’s useful “Pest Sighting Calendar,” is predicted to be active in New England beginning the third week of August. Susan alerted me to other cabbage family pests that may, literally, blow in with storms. The diamond-back moth Plutella xylostella would be active all season and the cabbage looper Trichoplusia ni, also a moth, is expected in late July. For descriptions of their larvae and a wealth of information about cabbage pests and beyond, see UMass educational materials, below.

Edible flower and vegetable garden: insect-barrier cloth floating over brassica bed beyond the tall Magnolia pea vines. Foreground right, lacinato kale. Foreground center, oswego tea’s delicious blossoms, July 10, 2019. Photo: Judy Isacoff


UMass educational materials
Subscribe to Garden Clippings newsletter –
Vegetable Pest Scouting Calendar –
Caterpillars in Brassica crops –

More cross-striped cabbage moth and worm identification and recommendations and pupa and image of moth and


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