Caterpillars on my orange tree

18 Apr, '06

Caterpillars on the orange tree

My orange tree was glorious before these pests arrived a few days ago. It even had fantastic fragrant flowers and the start of actual fruit. Alas due to these caterpillars it is now almost a skeleton without a healthy leaf and all flowers and fruit buds dropped off.

Other than picking each of these insects and physically crushing them between thumb and finger (which I have done and relished too) I looked for a solution that might rescue the tree… and I prefer organic solutions rather than chemical.

Trying to fix another problem all together I sought the advice of Elizabeth Shaheen, the noted gardener and author, during the recent Bahrain International Garden Show. Elizabeth suggested Neem Tree Oil to rid my lawn of the chafer grub… As I had just bought a bottle of the stuff, and as it has no side effects, I thought that I can’t lose anything by using it on the orange tree, and while I’m at it I might as well spray the whole lawn and other trees and shrubs.

That was 4 days ago… and until this morning, not a single caterpillar has shown its ugly self on that tree again, and I have not noticed any other bug anywhere in the garden other than ants!

The Neem Tree Oil really works it seems… I am glad. Thank you Elizabeth!

Update 060427: Apparently I’m a bad boy for destroying these caterpillars! According to Elizabeth who met Frances this morning, they do not harm the plant at all and turn into beautiful butterflies! My bad…

I reiterate that Elizabeth advised me to use the neem tree oil specifically for the Chafer Grub problem I have with the lawn, rather than nuke everything in sight!

Put that one down to “learning experience.”

Sorry Liz, and thanks once again!

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Comments (20)

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  1. MoClippa says:

    Thats too bad, but good thing the Neem Oil worked out for you so well! Hopefully that orange tree will be back up to smack soon enough. We know how much Mahmood loves his plants!

    Its quite suprising that when those catipillers attacked you lost your fruit buds right the next day? Thats quite quick, didn’t know they could be such a menace, But I guess they were no match against your herbal extermination remedies!

    Requiescat in pace little buggies!

  2. Neem is simply the BEST!! It is all I use now Mahmood. Can you imagine an attack like what you had on my tiny little trees? The effects would be, well I don’t want to think about it.

  3. mahmood says:

    I can’t really recall when all the fruit(lets) fell, but I can say for definite that since these critters were discovered the plant went south very very quickly. I first thought I might have over-watered it until I actually had a closer look at the thing…

    I think I’ll see some new growth on it soon I hope, once that happens I’ll be happier.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Love that stuff. Helps with funguses too – so you get two benefits with one spray.

  5. ximo says:

    From where can i get the this neem oil tree here in Egypt? What is the arabic name for it? Zait Shagaret El neem? Was it readily available in Bahrain?

  6. Sadferret says:

    Thanks for the Neem tip, although not available in garden centres in the UK, I have found the garden oil on the internet. They even do a Neem product for head lice .. in case your kids happen to bring them home!!

  7. mahmood says:

    xemo, you’re probably best ordering it from the internet. It is produced in India and Burma I think, although the tree does grow in Bahrain and during the last Bahrain Graden Show it was one of the schools’ project to produce that oil from a tree I presume grown in Bahrain and demonstrate its uses.

    Alternatively ask around the garden centres where you live, they must have heard of it, and I suspect the name in Arabic is as you suggested, although not sure.

    Sadferret, almost a week after using it and no side-effects to the naked eye yet and all plants are healthy except for a small white rose which just does not like change at all! It’ll grow again… knowing it!

  8. Sans says:

    Boil Tobacco in water, add some detergent/soap — and when it cools down – spray. Very effective. That’s what we do in India. Neem Oil also does wonders.

  9. K from Oslo says:

    That’s a great tip, i’ll make sure to try it out against green lice (?) (on roses) this summer. Xemo, you’ll probably be able to get it as an aromatherapy essence and then you can mix it yourself.
    At my garden center we sell an organic pestecide, it contains acids derived from salts, is very effective and is completely biode gradeble.
    Btw, be careful with the neem oil though, if it keeps the catepilars away, it might keep friendly bugs away too and you might not get any fruits!

  10. K from Oslo

    NEEM oil has been used for centuries as a safe and effective growth regulator and anti-feedant for more the 200 insect pests. It is also Non-toxic to humans, birds, mammals and most beneficial insects.

    It is perhaps the single pest pesticide made/grown.


    There is even a NEEM TOOTHPASTE on the market.

  11. ximo says:

    This is the dilemma. Keeping pests away takes its toll on other insects that messes with the flowers. Anyways, I searched for the Neem oil things and it is known in arabic with the same name and it is grown in guess where, Saudi Arabia. Most probably I will be able to get it.

  12. Ximo

    If you can’t find it email me at I will send you a couple of ounces of neem concentrate.

    The neem tree may grow in Saudi but that doesn’t mean the Saudi’s are refining the stuff. In my experiance the best neem comes out of India.

  13. mahmood says:

    Can you send this stuff through the post to Egypt? Ximo find out if it is permissable to do so and I’ll package off a bottle for you if you like.

    Hey, a business idea here: I should start selling it internationally through Mtv!! 😉

  14. K from Oslo says:

    CerebralWaste; Wow, I wonder why it’s not more widespread as a pestecide. I do actually have a neem shampoo.
    Mahmood; I’ll start the marketing when I start working for the garden centre in the summer:)

  15. K from Oslo

    While Neem is not “new” it is relatively new product to the West. It is gaining in popularity but it will still take some time to “retrain” people to buy and use and a single new product when for years they have proudly used a vast multitude of others. You can also imagine the large chemical manufactures face a huge problem with this as well.

    I suspect within 5 years Neem will be as common for gardners as any other pesticide on the market today. I base that on the fact that I am seeing a large increase in my neem sales over last year.


  16. Anonymous says:

    الموضوع كتييييييييير روعة اية بيت لحم

  17. Elizabeth Shaheen says:

    Dear Mahmood,

    Thank you so much for all your most kind and generous comments.

    Have a great summer,

    With kindest wishes,


    Elizabeth Shaheen

  18. mahmood says:

    Thanks for stopping by Elizabeth, it’s great that you did. Have a great summer yourself and keep your GDN column going, it’s the only thing that is keeping my subscription current!

  19. Molly McQuarrie says:

    The next time your citrus [orange, lime, lemon] tree is invaded by the caterpillar photographed in 2006,[2006-04-18 caterpillars on my orange tree] call the nearest school and ask if there is a teacher interested in “harvesting” the caterpillars.
    They are excellent for raising [usually the food supply – citrus leaves – are easily obtained] to the butterfly stage and they are truly beautiful. A large plastic bottle, caterpillars, some citrus sprigs stuck in small cubes of dampened sponge in the bottom and in a month you will have a beautiful butterfly. Change the leaves every 2 days.
    The photograph shows the “bird dirt” stage which prevents birds from eating them and later they change to a greener colour. The adults are Oriental lime butterflies: Family Papilionidae Papilio demoleus demoleus. They feed exclusively on citrus trees whereas the African Lime Butterfly larvae feed on citrus fruit trees and various wild food plants. [Torben B. Larsen – Butterflies of Saudi Arabia and its Neighbours, 1984].
    The early young larvae of the Swallowtail [Papilio machaon] looks like this photo also but they are not found on citrus trees.

    • mahmood says:

      Many thanks for the information Molly, you’re rightly made me regret having to dispose of them. I’ve not seen any since this particular incident though I do still notice some munched leaves once in a while. Other than regular pruning, I left the plants alone. Unfortunately, none have produce fruit much.

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