Capparis spinosa (the commercial caper) has been as a food plant for Caper Whites according to Michael Braby’s “Butterflies of Australia” and there is a note to the effect that during their southern migration the butterflies sometimes breed on cultivated specimens of their food plants. It appears that they don’t become established though.
From: Geoffrey Dabb [
Sent: Wednesday, 8 December 2010 3:02 PM
Subject: RE: [canberrabirds] Butterfly Capers - better late than never [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]
Interesting. I wonder whether the species makes use of the cultivated Caper, which is grown much further south than Newcastle. I find the following attributed to Maggie Beer on the website of the Australian Caper Company.
“ I'll never forget the day years later in Mildura when those of us interested in slow food were gathered for the first time. We were sitting on my friend Stefano de Pieri's newly renovated riverboat to hear of his dream of the Murray becoming the "Slow River" and to hear other speakers on slow food, among them Trewartha, of the Australian Caper Company. When he and his wife, Samantha, approached me before proceedings began and gave me the first jar of salted capers they'd produced, I felt as if I'd won the lottery. Taking them home and finding out just how good they were completed the circle. I now only hope that this can be made into a viable agricultural pursuit.
The Australian Caper Company grows its capers organically on the dry rocky slopes of the Murray River near Mannun, combining ancient techniques with modern research.
The hardy caper bush, with a deep root system that uses very little water, is grown on land so degraded by salinity it could grow almost nothing else except saltbush. The capers are picked at first light every day throughout the hot summer months then cured in their own juices, repackaged in salt and sold that same season, ensuring they are fresher, firmer and more flavoursome than the imported product.
Then there is Brian Noone, a nurseryman formerly of Cottage Herbs in Angle Vale, South Australia. Noone won a Churchill Fellowship to study caper propagation in the Mediterranean, where he found his calling. Since his return, he has successfully bred a caper he's called the 'Eureka', protecting it with plant-breeder rights.
Noone has fielded interest in the plant from as far afield as Morocco, Israel and Syria. Other than the high-end position occupied by the Australian Caper Company, Noone feels it will be difficult for the Australian industry to compete with cheap imports of bulk capers because of our high labour costs and lack of access to the innovative and very expensive picking equipment used overseas. For more information on Noone's capers, see www.caperplants.com.”
Perhaps someone should ask Messrs Trewartha and Noone whether they have noticed any unusual caterpillars on their caper vines. Looking into the dark corners of a food cupboard, I have just found an ancient jar of ‘Baby Capers’ which was marketed by “Sandhurst – The All Australian Company” and is labelled “Product of Morocco”.
Sent: Wednesday, 8 December 2010 1:35 PM
Subject: [canberrabirds] Butterfly Capers - better late than never [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]
This is further to the Caper White/ Belenois java conversation at the end of November which I've just caught up with. Here is some extra info from Ted Edwards on the possible migration patterns of the Caper Whites:
From: Edwards, Ted (CES, Black Mountain)
Sent: Monday, 6 December 2010 9:56 AM
To: 'muriel story'
Subject: RE: caper whites
Nobody has studied their migrations. But the usual pattern in Canberra is that sometimes there is a small migration heading S to SW in late September or early October. There is usually a much larger migration in late November or early December heading approx NE. This Dec migration normally heads S out at places like Narrandera and Griffith, then swings round somewhere in Victoria and some at least head NE back through Canberra.
The caterpillars of the butterflies feed on Capparis and Apophyllum. These plants occur no further south than Newcastle on the coast and Griffith in the mid-west of NSW. (And the northern Flinders Ranges in SA).
The butterflies breed in large numbers in central Northern NSW (Narrabri, Moree) but more commonly in western Qld and this must be the source of most of the butterflies. So the ones you see have probably flown of the order of 1000 km already and probably more.
No one knows any of this exactly. This is all surmise based on casual observations. No one knows why. There are other stories for Qld, NT and SA.
CSIRO BLACK MOUNTAIN
Steve Holliday writes:
Denis is correct, they are Caper Whites, a classic migration happening at the moment, biggest numbers I have seen for a long time. There were also thousands through Cowra-Wellington-Tamworth areas a couple of weeks ago.
Do we know where they’re from. where they’re bound? I can’t find this information in any of our books.