Lavender Flowered Favorites of Cabbage Whites: Creeping Thistle, English Lavender, New England Aster

by DerdriuMarriner

Old World natives, cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) now flit abundantly in the New World with cosmopolitan nectar favorites of one New World and two Old World natives.

Cabbage whites are Old World butterflies which are now familiar throughout the world.

Although their caterpillar stage is unpopular for its devastating forages on crops such as cabbages, the butterfly stage innocuously seeks nectar and is attracted especially to lavender-tinted flowers.

Three lavender-flower plants which cabbage whites favor are
•creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense),
•English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and
•New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

lavender's flowers: a visually appealing, satisfyingly tasty treat for small cabbage white

Sandy, Bedfordshire, southeast England
Sandy, Bedfordshire, southeast England

 

Cabbage whites are butterflies that flicker comfortably across open spaces. Someone somewhere in the world is graced sometime between spring and autumn with this delicate white fluttering on the periphery. In particular, children love chasing cabbage whites, which seem to engage humorously in a playful game of catch-if-you-can.

Cabbage whites regaled my siblings, our friends, and me for hours in childhood with advance and retreat maneuvers that continued as long as I participated. Many a time we reluctantly straggled inside for dinner only to rush back outside to find our fluttery friends still there and ever ready to resume our game.

A similar experience, of chasing after cabbage whites for hours, was recalled by Peter W. Hall, specialist in Lepidoptera (an order of insects encompassing moths and butterflies) and co-author of the indispensable Butterflies of Canada. His lifelong interest began at the age of seven with several hours of chasing cabbage whites around a schoolyard.

 

closeup of Pieris rapae

"The Small White (Pieris rapae) is a small to mid-sized butterfly species of the Yellows-and-Whites family Pieridae."
"The Small White (Pieris rapae) is a small to mid-sized butterfly species of the Yellows-and-Whites family Pieridae."

Home for cabbage whites: from Old World butterfly to New World invader

 

An Old World native, cabbage whites originate in Europe, North Africa, and Asia.

Accidentally introduced into North America, Australia, and New Zealand, these seemingly fragile flutterers tenaciously seek out and claim habitats as they focus on colonization.

Cabbage whites were first sighted in western North America in 1859 when esteemed mining engineer-chemist-zoologist Alexander Agassiz (December 17, 1835 - March 27, 1910) collected specimens along the Pacific coast.

Cabbage whites were first reported in western North America in 1860. In that year, William Couper, a taxidermist and general collector "addicted especially to Lepidoptera," captured a few specimens in the vicinity of Quebec.

 

Alexander Agassiz: credited with first sighting of cabbage white butterfly in the United States

c.1860 photograph
c.1860 photograph

 

For the next 25 years, entomologists (Greek: ἔντομος, entomos, "that which is segmented" + λογία, -logia, “explanation, study”), that is, scientific specialists in the study of insects, throughout Canada and the United States observed and mapped the invasion of Pieris rapae as "the northern band . . . . the southern horde . . . . its main army" swept across and devastated the New World landscape, overrunning "every nook and corner of New England." By 1874 cabbage whites were inhabiting Apalachicola in Florida's southeastern panhandle. Having conquered Toronto in Canada's east-central province of Ontario in August 1872, cabbage whites persisted westward and southward. The prairie province of  Manitoba in central Canada and the Dakotas in midwestern United States were settled by cabbage whites by 1883. The goal of the delicate but hardy invaders appeared to be to "outrun the tide of civilization." (Samuel Scudder, "The Introduction and Spread of Pieris rapae in North America, 1860-1885")

Now as a New World adoptee, cabbage whites decorate the landscape from northwestern Mexico northward into central Canada. Occasional digressions are reported deep into the north. For example, cabbage whites have been sighted at Kuujjuarapik, the southernmost Inuit village at the mouth of the Great Whale River (Grande Rivière de la Baleine) on the east coast of Hudson Bay in the province of Quebec in far northeastern Canada. Also cabbage whites have reached the Inuit hamlet of Arviat, located on the western shore of Hudson Bay in the Kivalliq Region of the territory of Nunavut.

In the continental United States, cabbage whites are ubiquitous everywhere, with the exception of south Texas, southern Louisiana, and the Florida Keys.

 

Cabbage white butterflies were first described by legendary botanist Carl Linnaeus.

1920 statue by Carl Eldh (1873-1954), Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, northeast Ohio
1920 statue by Carl Eldh (1873-1954), Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, northeast Ohio

 

The scientific name for cabbage white butterfly is Pieris rapae.

First described by legendary Swedish botanist-physician-zoologist Carl Linnaeus (May 23,1707 - January 10, 1778) in 1758, cabbage whites were given the initial scientific name of Papilio danaus rapae. In 1801 German botanist-entomologist Franz Paula von Schrank (1747 - 1835) refined the description of the genus to Pieris in honor of Pieris (Greek: Πιερίς), one of nine muses of knowledge in Greek mythology. Thus, the accepted scientific name changed to Pieris rapae.

The species name, rapae (Latin: rapa, "turnip"), is derived from the field mustard or turnip mustard (Brassica rapa), a host plant favored by cabbage whites.

The common name of cabbage white was first applied in 1875. American entomologist-palaeontologist Samuel Hubbard Scudder (April 13, 1837 - May 17, 1911) bestowed the epithet in reference to the preferential haunting of cabbages by the caterpillar stage of the white butterfly.

 

cabbage white butterfly

Bas-Saint Laurent, southeastern Quebec, east central Canada
Bas-Saint Laurent, southeastern Quebec, east central Canada

Habitat: preference for openness

 

Open spaces attract cabbage whites. Preferred habitats are various, ranging from bogs, fields, gardens, and roadsides to any open space whether in urban, suburban, or rural areas.

North Americans are familiar with cabbage whites as they usually are the first butterflies of spring. Also cabbage whites flit unself-consciously through their habitats. Their flight pattern, as they travel and reflect the sun's rays, is straight and at a slighter slower speed than most of the other, fast-paced whites (genus Pieris). In their flutterings, cabbage whites display a pronounced upwards and downwards bobbing, a pattern exhibited by their Eurasian ubiquitous brethren, the green-veined white butterfly (Pieris napi).

 

Mobility: willing to travel

 

According to studies, cabbage whites enjoy going the distance. Over 7 miles (12 kilometers) may be traversed in a single flight. In England, males that were tagged and recaptured had covered an average of 244 miles (394 kilometers) while females logged 193 miles (310 kilometers).

During peak egg-laying, females are less adventurous and travel about 0.4 miles (0.7 kilometers) per day.

Interestingly, although a preferred direction is maintained throughout one day, it is not observed from one day to the next. To the observer, changes in direction occur unpredictably across a succession of days.

 

life cycle of cabbage white butterfly

illustration by Mary Foley Benson
illustration by Mary Foley Benson

Life cycle: a voracious consumer of cabbages

 

Depending on climatic conditions, cabbage whites require three to six weeks to complete their life cycle. The number of generations annually produced is determined by the geographic location. Two to three generations are seen in Canada while three emerge in New England. Three to five are produced in California whereas the southern United States reports six to eight generations. Generations are witnessed continuously in Florida where cabbage whites are found throughout the year.

 

 

Eggs are laid singly --- not together, not in blobby, globby clusters --- on leaves.

Upended on its width, the egg is shaped like a bullet, with the flattened end at the point of attachment and the tapered end pointing outwards. Initially pale white, eggs ultimately take on a yellow coloring.

Eggs have a width of 0.019 inches (0.5 millimeters) and a length of 0.039 inches (1.0 millimeters).

 

caper plant

Son Carrió, Mallorca
Son Carrió, Mallorca

Host plants

 

Host plants are mainly in the mustard (Brassicaceae) family, especially Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.

The caper bush (Capparis spinosa), which is in the Capparidaceae family, serves as another favorite host plant. Capers, the plant's unripened, olive green flower buds, are prized as a pickled seasoning or garnish in dressings, sauces, meat dishes, and salads.

The devastation wreaked upon these vegetables as they grow by cabbage white larvae (caterpillars) unsettles even the calmest agriculturalist, gardener, or horticulturalist.

 

cabbage white caterpillar

Commanster, Belgian High Ardennes, Walloon region, southeast Belgium
Commanster, Belgian High Ardennes, Walloon region, southeast Belgium

Externals: What cabbage white caterpillars look like

 

The cabbage white larval, or caterpillar, stage generally is completed within 11 to 33 days for the late summer generation.

Cabbage white caterpillars go through five instars, which are developmental stages between ecdysis (Greek: ἐκδύω, ekduo, "to take off, strip off"), the moulting, or shedding, of the outer surface. The mature body length of each instar progressively increases, averaging 0.125 inches (3.2 millimeters) for the first, 0.34 inches (8.8 millimeters) for the second, 0.55 inches (14.0 milimeters) for the third, 0.79 inches (20.2 millimeters) for the fourth, and 1.18 inches (30.1 millimeters) for the fifth.

Caterpillars are velvety blue green. A yellow line along the middle of their backs appears in all instars after the first. Their sides have dashes of yellow. Five prolegs, which are small, fleshy, unjointed stubs, appear along the bottom of the abdomen to facilitate mobility.

 

pupa just before emergence

cabbage white pupa just before emerging
cabbage white pupa just before emerging

Externals: What cabbage white pupae look like

 

Pupation is the transformational stage from caterpillar to butterfly. About 0.70 to 0.78 inches (18 to 20 millimeters) in length, the cabbage white chrysalis (Greek: χρυσαλλίς, khrusallis, "gold-colored pupa") tends to blend with the brownness or greenness or yellowness of the background. Usual pupal colors are mottled brown to grey or green or yellow green. Normally cabbage whites pupate on host plants but occasionally pupation occurs in nearby debris.

 

cabbage white pupa on prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola)

pupation
pupation

The duration of pupation depends upon the time of year. In summer the pupal stage lasts about 11 days. Later autumnal generations experience an overwintering stage in which pupation may endure for months. During this extended pupation, the insect is in diapause, which is a time of sleep that differs from hibernation in that no growth occurs. Cabbage white pupae enter diapause as a result of warning signals from their environment, such as lowered temperatures or shorter day length.

 

newly emerged cabbage white with pupal exuvia (Latin: exuere, "to remove, strip off") on underside of purple beech leaf (Fagus sylvatica Purpurea Group)

newborn
newborn

Externals: What cabbage white butterflies look like

 

The butterfly which emerges from the cabbage white chrysalis has a lifespan of up to three weeks.

Wingspan averages 1-3/4 to 2-1/4 inches (4.5 to 5.8 centimeters).

Uppersides are clear white with black-tipped forewings. Females have two submarginal black spots, while males have only one. The undersides of hindwings and of the apex (Latin: apex, “tip, peak, top”), or tip, of each forewing are yellow green or grey green.

 

male Pieris rapae

Ausseerland (also: Ausseer Land;Region Bad Aussee), northwest Styria, southeast Austria
Ausseerland (also: Ausseer Land;Region Bad Aussee), northwest Styria, southeast Austria

Food sources: the attraction of purple, blue, and yellow

 

In their search for nectar, cabbage whites first identify green vegetation. Next they focus on their favorite colors, which are deemed to be purple, blue, and yellow.

Flowers which easily attract cabbage whites include:

  • creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense),
  • English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and
  • New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

 

cabbage white with creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Roßthal (southwestern suburb of Dresden), Saxony, east central Germany
Roßthal (southwestern suburb of Dresden), Saxony, east central Germany

Creeping thistle: Old World native, New World invader

 

Cirsium arvense is commonly known as Canadian thistle or Canada thistle or creeping thistle.

 

Homeland

Creeping thistle is an Old World native, ranging from southeastern Europe to the eastern Mediterranean.

It was introduced, presumably by accident, into the American colonies early in the seventeenth century and proceeded a stubborn creep across the New World. By 1954 forty-three states had designated creeping thistle as a noxious weed, which is an invasive plant that negatively and overwhelmingly impacts habitats, humans, livestock, or agriculture in its environment. In the twenty-first century, creeping thistle has extended its domain to include natural areas such as parks and recreation areas.

 

Canadian, or creeping, thistle (Cirsium arvense) not only is desirable to cabbage white butterflies but also to bees (Bombus

"Two Bees on a Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense)"
"Two Bees on a Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense)"

 

Description

Thriving in full sun, creeping thistle reaches a height of 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 meters). Its extensive lateral spread above ground is encouraged by an extensive underground root system, which extends 15 feet (4.5 meters) horizontally under the surface and plunges 6 to 15 feet deep into the soil (1.8 to 4.5 meters).

Lance-shaped leaves alternate sides as they travel up the stem. Long and crinkled, leaves are edged with sharp yellow spines. Small, numerous flowers open in a cluster of lavender or rose purple or white from midsummer through autumn.

 

Ethnobotanical uses

Native Americans valued creeping thistle in therapeutic remedies.

  • The Abnaki (Alnôbak, "Real People"), whose homeland, Wabanaki ("Dawn Land") stretched from New England into Canada's maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island), boiled the roots as a vermifugal pediatric aid to treat intestinal worms in children.
  • For the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee, "They Are Building a Long House"), an infusion of steeped roots served as an oral aid to treat problems in the mouth.
  • The Mohegan ("People of the Wolf") infused the leaves as an oral pediatric mouthwash for infants and extracted the plant's essences through boiling for a decoction to treat consumption.

 

Value for wildlife

Creeping thistle is popular with bees, butterflies, and birds. On the other hand, it is shunned by deer, which find it repugnant.

 

U.S.D.A. Plant Hardiness Zones Map

The map classes plants according to the minimum and maximum temperatures at which they remain viable. Accordingly, creeping thistle is hardy for zone 5 (-20 to -10 °F; -29 to -23 °C) through zone 9 (20 to 30 °F; -7 to -1 °C).

 

cabbage white butterflies delight in lavender's flowers

North Frisian Island of Amrum (Öömrang dialect of North Frisian: Oomram), Schleswig-Holstein, Germany's North Sea coast
North Frisian Island of Amrum (Öömrang dialect of North Frisian: Oomram), Schleswig-Holstein, Germany's North Sea coast

English lavender: from Old World native to colonial New World garden staple

 

Lavandula angustifolia is commonly known as English lavender. Other scientific synonyms are Lavandula officinalis, Lavandula pyrenaica, Lavandula spica, and Lavandula vera.

 

Homeland

Native to the Mediterranean region, English lavender has been successfully naturalized in temperate areas of the New World, where it quickly became a staple in colonial herb gardens.

 

Description

Thriving in full sun, English lavender reaches a height of 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) and spreads to a width of 4 feet (1.2 meters).

Grey leaves are slightly downy and narrow.

Fragrant flowers open in deep purple spikes in early summer.

 

Ethnobotanical uses

Ethnobotanical appreciation of English lavender has a widespread, lengthy history. Culinary uses include as a soothing, relaxing, fragrant tea, as a floral garnish in salads, as a flavoring in baked goods or ice cream or as a syrup or jelly.

Other ethnobotanical applications encompass bath, beauty, and household products, such as candles, insect and moth repellents, perfume, potpourri, soap.

 

U.S.D.A. Plant Hardiness Zones Map

English lavender thrives in zone 5 (-20 to -10 °F; -29 to -23 °C) through zone 10 (30 to 40 °F; -1 to 4 °C).

 

cabbage white comfortably dining via New England aster

Edison, Middlesex County, central New Jersey
Edison, Middlesex County, central New Jersey

New England Aster: New World native

 

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae is commonly known as New England aster. Another popular scientific synonym is Aster novae-angliae.

 

Homeland

New England aster is a New World native. In Canada, New England asters brighten the landscape from the east coast to the prairie province of Manitoba and then skip over the other two prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta to alight in the west coastal province of British Columbia. On the Canadian east coast New England asters do not occur natively in the maritime province of Prince Edward Island nor in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In central and western Canada New England asters are not native to the territories of Nunavut, Northwest Territories, or Yukon.

In the continental United States, New England aster occurs natively in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., and in 42 states. The cheery flowers enliven the landscape from coast to coast, with the exception of Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, and Texas.

 

Native distribution of New England Aster in Canada and the United States

USA: not native to territories or to 8 states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas)
native Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec
native Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec

 

Description

Thriving in full sun or partial shade, New England asters reach a height of 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters), with a spread of 24 to 48 inches (60 to 120 centimeters).

Leaves alternate sides as they travel up the stem. Lance-shaped with wide bases, leaves end in points and measure up to 5 inches (12 centimeters) in length.

Flowers open in dense sprays of 40 or more soft purple rays around a yellow-centered disk from late summer through autumn.

 

Ethnobotanical uses

In addition to attracting butterflies, New England asters were sought by Native Americans for therapeutic purposes.

  • The Cherokee (Tsalagi, ᏣᎳᎩ, or Aniyunwiya, ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯᎢ, "Principal People") pounded the roots for an analgesic poultice to dissipate pain and sniffed oozings from the root as a respiratory aid to treat catarrh. An infusion from steeping the roots was taken as an antidiarrheal remedy.
  • The Iroquois boiled the plant as a dermatological decoction to strengthen skin and as a febrifuge decoction to break fevers.

 

U.S.D.A. Plant Hardiness Zones Map

New England asters are hardy for zone 2 (-50 to -40 °F; -46 to -40 °C) through zone 9 (20 to 30°F; -7 to -1 °C).

 

closeup of New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (L.) Nesom)

Pennsylvania's New England asters
Pennsylvania's New England asters

Cabbage white butterflies and their lavender flowers

 

Cabbage whites are drawn to flowers that shade from lavender to purple. The attraction provides them with a nectar source and sometimes a resting place or even a gathering place. The flowers which beguile cabbage whites attract other visitors as well. Perhaps the diverse community of visitors at flowers such as creeping thistle, English lavender, and New England asters derives a certain satisfaction from their active participation in nature's ways.

The mutual benefit derived from floral-butterfly interactions ignores their separate impacts as apparently undesirable species in the human landscape. Thus, creeping thistle does not antagonize cabbage whites as noxious weeds because, with its drought tolerance, it can be depended upon to survive over distances in vast clumps and provide nectar. In turn, cabbage whites, which are after nectar, not leaves, from creeping thistle, have no inclination to ravage it as they are known to do to cabbages. Cabbage whites and creeping thistle both exemplify cohabitants which are beneficial to one another but which have attained undesirable statuses in the human equation.

Nevertheless, whether or not their caterpillar stage runs amok on its host plant, cabbage whites in their butterfly stage pass their brief lifespan amidst beauty and, in turn, they enhance their surroundings. What precedes them and what follows them, in the endless transitions from eggs to larvae to pupae to butterfly, are simply participants in the cycle of life.

 

cabbage white with aster

Austins Ferry, Tasmania, Australia
Austins Ferry, Tasmania, Australia

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

As mud puddlers, male cabbage whites not only frequent floral favorites but also extract nutrients from damp sandy clay.

northeastern Lower Saxony, northwestern Germany
"A collective salt lick of Small Whites, Pieris rapae, on alternate-soaked sandy clay (dried pool)."
"A collective salt lick of Small Whites, Pieris rapae, on alternate-soaked sandy clay (dried pool)."

Sources Consulted

 

Agassiz, G.R., ed. Letters and Recollections of Alexander Agassiz with a Sketch of his Life and Work. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1913.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: http://archive.org/details/lettersrecollect00agasuoft

"Cabbage White Pieris rapae (Linnaeus, 1758)." Butterflies and Moths of North America. Butterfly and Moth Information Network, Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus. Web. www.butterfliesandmoths.org

  • Available at:  http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Pieris-rapae

Capinera, John L. “Imported Cabbageworm, Pieris rapae (Linnaeus)(Insecta: Lepidoptera: Pieridae).” Entomology & Nematology University of Florida > Featured Creatures. March 2000. Latest revision: January 2013. UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department. Web. entnemdept.ufl.edu

  • Available at:  http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/leaf/imported_cabbageworm.htm 

“Diapause.” ThinkQuest > Library > Health & Safety > Human Anatomy > Sleep > Deep Sleep. Oracle Education Foundation. Web. library.thinkquest.org

  • Available at:  http://library.thinkquest.org/TQ0312800/diapause.htm 

Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia. Volumes I and II. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2003.

Guppy, Crispin Spencer and Jon H. Shepard. Butterflies of British Columbia: Including Western Alberta, Southern Yukon, the Alaska Panhandle, Washington, Northern Oregon, Northern Idaho, and Northwestern Montana. Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia and Royal British Columbia Museum, 2001.

Kirby, W. (William) F. (Forsell). A Hand-book to the Order Lepidoptera. Part I. Butterflies - Vol. II. Plates printed by Wyman & Sons, Limited. London: Edward Lloyd, Limited, 1896.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:  https://archive.org/details/handbooktoorderl02kirbrich

Layberry, Ross A., Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontine. The Butterflies of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press, 1998.

Moerman, Daniel. Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2009.

Ortho's All About Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Books, 2001.

Roth, Sally. Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2001.

Scudder, Samuel H. “Historical sketch of the generic names proposed for butterflies, A contribution to systematic nomenclature.” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. X (2d series, Volume II). Salem, MA: Naturalist’s Agency, 1875.

Scudder, Samuel H. The introduction and spread of Pieris rapae in North America, 1860-1886. Memoirs of the Boston Society of Natural History; Volume IV, Number III. Boston MA: Boston Society of Natural History, 1887.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at:  http://dx.doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.38374

Whitney, William Dwight. The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedia Lexicon of the English Language. 6 volumes. New York: The Century Co., 1906.

 

Pieris rapae nectaring creeping thistle

Hamburg, northwestern Germany
Hamburg, northwestern Germany
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Bouquet of flowers with Cabbage White butterfly: stipple color engraving, hand finished by Alexandre Chaponnier (1753-1806), after illustration by Pancrace Bessa (January 1, 1772 - June 11, 1846).

red and white tulip, a blue hyacinth and two stems of multi-headed narcissus, with a Cabbage White butterfly settled on one of the broad leaves of the tulip.
Extremely rare large scale print.

1896 print of Large and Small Cabbage White butterflies by entomologist-folklorist William Forsell Kirby (January 14, 1844 – November 20, 1912).

Printed from plates by Wyman & Sons, London.
Reprint of scarce antiquarian book (1887) by American insectologist who gave common name, Cabbage White, to Pieris rapae.
Cabbage white's historic journey from Old World to New World

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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
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Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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