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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Meet Logan Square’s ‘Caterpillar Mom,’ Whose Vegetable Garden Has Become A Safe Haven For Pollinators

Lauren Kleiman bought parsley plants in May. Now, she's taking care of 28 caterpillars who have made her garden their home.

Lauren Kleiman has become Logan Square's "caterpillar mom" after her parsley plants attracted dozens of black swallowtails this summer.
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LOGAN SQUARE — Lauren Kleiman loves growing basil, tomatoes and peppers on her porch in Logan Square. But after adding a few parsley plants this summer, her garden became more than just a hobby — it became a home for caterpillars and butterflies.

When Kleiman, 39, added the parsley in May, there were caterpillars “all over them” just days later. The caterpillars, which she believes are black swallowtails, became butterflies after a few weeks.

Kleiman ended up spending her summer doing her part to save the pollinators, providing them food and safety. More than two dozen are growing up and changing into butterflies through her help.

“It’s relaxing,” Kleiman said. “I’d like to think I’m helping the ecosystem a little bit. If anything, it’s just kind of giving these little creatures a place to live, then leaving it to nature.”

The effort was an unplanned outcome of gardening, which has just been a hobby for Kleiman, she said. Her dad always had a vegetable garden growing up and she looks forward to summers so she can work on her own.

But Kleiman stepped up to her role as a butterfly parent when she noticed the caterpillars: She started buying extra parsley from the grocery store and sometimes solicited neighbors for help so they wouldn’t run out of food as they nibbled on her parsley plants. She also bought a small enclosure to keep them safe.

Kleiman’s garden has seen two caterpillar life cycles this summer. The first time around, Kleiman released eight or nine butterflies in June. Now, this second time around, she has about 28 caterpillars.

“When they come out of eggs, they’re smaller than a grain of rice,” Kleiman said. “Eventually, when they’re full-sized … they wander around, and then they sort of metamorph into a chrysalis. And then they stay in there for a couple of weeks and a butterfly emerges.”

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The caterpillars start off smaller than a grain of rice, but within a few weeks they morph into butterflies ready for release.

Kleiman has chronicled the caterpillars’ growth in a Logan Square neighborhood Facebook group, where she’s caught the attention of neighbors and is known as the “caterpillar mom.”

Neighbors have donated parsley and other plants to help feed the caterpillars, Kleiman said. She tried feeding the caterpillars dill once, but they only seem to like parsley, she said.

“They all seem to be snacking,” she said. “I’m a hobbyist, not an expert. This is just me experimenting.”

Kleiman has also encouraged her neighbors to have a plant outside if they’re able to, especially because butterflies need to be released around greenery.

Growing pollinator-friendly plants such as parsley, dill and butterfly weed is one of the easiest ways to help pollinator species thrive. Environmental experts have pushed for Chicagoans to grow more native, pollinator-friendly plants to help insects such as Kleiman’s swallowtails and the endangered monarch butterfly, which is currently migrating through Chicago to Mexico for the winter.

“If you have the means, just to try it,” Kleiman said. “You’re supporting nature and life.”

When Kleiman’s not attending to caterpillar mom duties or gardening, she is a graphic designer at an advertising agency and a nail tech, working both jobs from home. She lives with her husband, Aaron, and her cat, Walter.

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