Name: Foeniculum vulgare
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 3 – 4 feet tall and 18 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil.
If you’ve ever grown fennel, you know that it’s a favorite of the black and anise swallowtails. By summer’s end, fennel can be laced with the larvae of these two magnificent butterflies. Like parsley, fennel is a host plant for the black swallowtail, east of the Rockies, and the anise swallowtail butterfly, west of the Rockies. In my garden, Helen’s Haven, in Raleigh, North Carolina, I find the females of the black swallowtail preferring to lay her eggs on the fennel before the parsley. This is just an observation; there may be scientific data to support this, I’ve not done the research, but in any case, since fennel is fairly well behaved in my garden, I grow it for the black swallowtails. The bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ will also attract black and anise swallowtails. The bronze color adds a lot of interest in the garden, as well.
Fennel is native to Southern Europe and to the Mediterranean. In many parts of the United States, fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, is invasive. I’m actually hesitant to even write about growing fennel as a host plant for this reason. I don’t recommend anyone growing fennel in areas where it’s invasive.
The plant itself is very lusty looking with a robust size, seductive color, and a soft touch. The verdant green color adds interest in a herb garden. I also grow fennel in my mixed border. The feathery foliage looks good all summer long.
If ever you’ve worked around fennel, you ‘ll immediately recall the aroma of licorice. Fennel is a feathery, aromatic herb. It grows to be several feet tall with umbels of small, yellow flowers that look very similar to a dill plant. Fennel has a pretty flower, with an interesting shape. Fennel seeds are popular in both sweet and savory dishes.
Take caution growing fennel. If it’s invasive in your area, plant parsley instead. Fennel is listed on the invasive list of North Carolina, but not for my region. If you can grow it or don’t mind it spread about, you will enjoy the plant and the butterflies it will bring to your wildlife habitat.
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Helen’s book, Gardening with Confidence–50 Ways to Add Style for Personal Creativity is due out this fall.