Pipe(vine) Dream

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed observing many a Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor, drifting through my garden, blue-tipped wings highlighted by the brilliant Texas sun.

The winged wonders rest in trees and tall shrubs, basking in the sunshine; occasionally, one drifts to the garden, flitting through the plants with strong wing beats, adding its beauty to the local landscape.  The host plant for these gorgeous insects are pipevine plants, Aristolochia species; I’ve never grown any myself and I didn’t I know where pipevines resided that might be the nursery for the Pipevine Swallowtails visiting my garden.  But in the last couple of years, I noticed several White Veined Dutchman’s pipeAristolochia fimbriata  in a nearby neighbor’s garden and have assume that recent Pipevine Swallowtails wafting through my garden hail from her Dutchman’s Pipe.

This is one of my new plants, but you can see why a gardener might want this plant in the garden

Aside from its obvious attractive qualities in the garden,  A. fimbriata also a fab host plant for both the Pipevine Swallowtail and another butterfly, the Polydamas SwalllowtailBattus polydamas.

Last fall, dreaming of hosting my own crop of Pipevine Swallowtails, I planted three individual White-veined Dutchman’s pipe in a spot which has become increasingly shady.  I wanted something that would handle shade, be summer drought-hardy, and feed some sort of critter–or two.

I think I picked the right plants.

The three pipevines will spread, but I might plant a fourth in the middle to fill in. The small green plants shown here in the middle of the three pipevines are rosettes of Gulf penstemons, which I’ve recently transplanted to another spot.  A flock of ceramic birds fill the void.

Cheery green foliage, with spidery markings, the leaves are elegant and eye-catching.

White Veined Dutchman’s Pipe is hardy in zones 7-11;  I garden in zone 8b.  After our hard freezes this past winter, the pipevines died to their roots, but popped back in spring, ready for a full growing season.

I traveled during the first half of May and when I returned, the caterpillars (none of which I saw prior to the trip) had laid waste to all three plants.  Nothing remained but slender limbs of green.

Yum, yum–Dutchman Pipes taste good to Pipevine Swallowtail larvae!  Within a few weeks and assisted by some lovely, welcomed rain in June, all three plants have emerged–lush-n-leafy–after providing meals for that first batch of caterpillars.

Dutchman’s Pipe bloom, too!   They’re odd little aliens which are a bit shy.  You’ll have to peek under leaves to see them.

Despite the muted color scheme, Dutchman pipe flowers evoke the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Toward the end of the first round of larval lunching, there were still a couple of caterpillars, nibbling away.

There wasn’t much of the green stuff left for those last larvae and I don’t know if either ate enough to get to the morphing stage, but some time later, I found this chrysalis in a bucket on my back patio.

How do caterpillars decide where to place their chrysalises? I was about to fill the bucket with water when I saw the chrysalis. Yet another reminder that t’s always good to keep a sharp eye out for insects and the weird spots where they place their homes.

I kept watch for the adult’s emergence, but missed it.  However, the adult butterflies are back at it again;  the other day, I watched as a female oviposited the next generation.

There are several clusters of eggs on several slender branches. I imagine the larvae will eat most, if not all the leaves, so foliage will have to flush out again.

Despite the ravages that butterfly and moth larvae render leaves they feed upon, I’ve never lost a plant to caterpillar munching madness.  The various host plants that I grow always leaf out after a period of rest.

I prefer to use Texas natives when I’m able, but there is no commercially available native Texas Aristolochia. The next best thing is a non-native and A. fimbriata  fills this niche nicely.  It’s summer-tough, non-invasive, and pretty.  What more could you ask for?

One cautious note about pipevines: if you’re interested in attracting the stunning Pipevine Swallowtails,  you should avoid planting Giant pipevine, Aristolochia gigantea.  This tropical pipevine is too toxic for the Pipevine Swallowtails; the butterflies lay their eggs, the larvae hatch and eat, then die after the first instar.

So if you want this,

…and this,

…plant this.

28 thoughts on “Pipe(vine) Dream

  1. Well, this is frustrating news. I have both the white-veined Dutchman’s pipe and just planted the Giant Pipevine last week. I had no idea the Giant PV was toxic to butterfly larvae, and I want my garden to be butterfly friendly. I’ve grown the white-veined Dutchman’s PV for 2 years now, but I’ve yet to have a butterfly discover it. The Giant PV was planted in an area of dappled shade. Passion vines won’t grow in shade and I already have two hydrangea vines, Virginia creepers, coral honeysuckles, and a cross vine, so I wanted something different. Any suggestions?


  2. The butterflies are beautiful and, not being a resident of America let along Texas, I’ve never seen any before! I hadn’t realised there were any plants that were poisonous to caterpillars/butterflies, but I’m glad you’ve found something that they not only enjoy but thrive on.


    • They are lovely! Yes, apparantly there are some plants poisonous. The real issues is twofold: we tend to plant far out of our native range where insects and plants evolved together and climate change has allowed plants to grow in places where they wouldn’t have decades ago. If possible and if your interest is in wildlife gardening, try always to plant native to your region. It’s not always possible, of course, but it’s a worth goal to aspire to.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your pictures are great! My plant died completely this winter, but I have a bunch if seeded in baby plants in its place. They seem to be filling in a bit, hopefully they will really take off. So far no butterflies or catapillars have taken notice, but maybe down the road.


  4. Both the plant and the insect are fascinating. The Dutchman’s pipe flower is not unlike a strange insect itself as photographed from your angle. I enjoyed reading your post, Tina.


  5. Good info on the giant pipevine! I had a pipevine at my last garden but ended up digging it up and giving it away. I just didn’t have the right conditions for it. But I may try again!


    • Thanks, I do hope you’ll try it again, though I know you may have lots of other choices. I’m still having trouble leaving a comment on your blog, ): but I do read!!


  6. That is a classic example of why we should be more careful with what goes into our gardens. This current fad of butterfly gardening or bee gardening sounds appealing to most, but is not necessarily environmentally responsible. People are planting fancy hybrids and garden varieties that are sterile, and provide nothing for bees.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, though in this case, it’s more that a plant that shouldn’t be planted this far north but can be because of climate change, actually is damaging to a “local” butterfly, It might be interesting to research whether there is another butterfly that uses the Giant pipevine as its host plant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of the problems with the local monarch butterflies swarming to the red and blue gums is that they are not pollinating native plants that rely on them. We all know that they like the gum trees, but I do not want to see the California poppy go extinct because of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Tina I liked your blog and your great photos. The butterfly Battus philenor with its blue wings is divine. The Aristolochia fimbriata is very beautiful. Its flowers are a little strange, especially because they are under the leaves. They are very resistant plants to the caterpillars: to remain without leaves and to recover the foliage immediately. When selling the Giant pipevine they should warn that it is toxic for butterflies and caterpillars, because with the few butterflies that remain to sell as well as a toxic plant that depletes its population should be prohibited. It may be too radical, but if we do not take action, many animals will be extinct. Tina to spend a happy week. Greetings from Margarita.


    • Isn’t the butterfly a lovely thing? I just love it when one visits my garden. I agree that a disclaimer should be put on the tag for the Giant pipevine so that well-meaning gardeners don’t plant it, thinking that they’ll be helping the butterflies. You have a good week, too!


  8. Such beautiful butterflies! I’m almost positive I got a little seedling of A. fimbriata in a plant I bought last fall. Not knowing what it was but being attracted to the cool, marbled leaves, I in fact picked that particular plant because it had that little seedling in it. Thanks for the ID and all the information! Now I know I need to nurture it a little extra! 🙂


  9. That is such a crazy-looking flower! I had to investigate and found out it’s unusual in terms of modifications, apparently an early “evolutionary experiment” (basal angiosperm) Maybe you already know, but here’s a paper: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2015.01095/full

    It took me awhile to wade through the parts of interest–flower description in Introduction, and Figure 1–but I think I get it now. I also found out it traps insects! Anyway, turned out to be a super interesting post, thanks.


    • You’re such a botanist. 🙂 Most of what I know (or could understand…) from that article is that Aristolochia has a huge number of species in the genus. I also had the inkling that A. fimbriata might be a carnivore–just look at that shape, begging a bee or fly to hop right in! I didn’t really accurately describe where the flowers develop; I said “under” the leaf, but my photo and the scholarly article demonstrate that the flower is axillary. Geez, I could have used that term. 🙂 Anyhow, I’m loving my little plants and glad you liked the post!!


  10. A couple of years ago I planted a Dutchman’s Pipe (A. macrophylla). It isn’t nearlyt as interesting as your White Veined Dutchman’s Pipe. Mine has yet to bloom, and I have yet to see a single pipevine swallowtail. At least I can enjoy yours, though.


  11. I know you posted this before I put up my O’Keeffe post. How interesting that you saw the resemblance to her flowers; I completely agree. Automatic Gardener left a comment at my place that she recently saw an O’Keeffe exhibit in New York, at the Botanical Gardens. O’Keeffe was in Hawaii to paint for Dole Pineapple, and that exhibit was all the tropical flowers of the islands.

    In any event I think your pipevines and the plants are beautiful. I’ve never seen a Dutchman’s pipe, but I did grow up with Dutchmen’s breeches flower in Iowa. Those Dutch — they’re everywhere! We called small patches of blue sky in a generally cloudy sky Dutchmen’s breeches, too. As long as they were waving, no rain would come.

    On another note, do you remember our conversation about the cicada killers last year? They’re back — and even more of them. I’ve been watching, and spotted two of their burrows under some concrete steps. I know there are burrows there, because I’ve seen TWO of the insects carrying cicadas underground. I still don’t have a photo, but I’m working on it.

    What you said about plants being used “out of range” is interesting. I recently learned that when starting a butterfly garden or using native plants, it’s best to seek seed from the area you’ll be planting in. I think I remember hearing that a 25 mile radius was best. Coneflower seeds purchased from a catalogue might have come from an area with quite different conditions, for example. So, seed gathering can be an important part of the process, too.


    • I love O’Keeffe flowers! And I’m enjoying the Dutchman’s pipe. There are new eggs and I mean to check them for little crawlies and keep forgetting–tomorrow!!

      I do remember the cicada killers; it’s a good year for them, I guess. I’m impressed at your diligence in watching them and I hope you get a shot of them carrying their cicada booty! Or maybe it’s more like take-out!

      It make sense, doesn’t it, that plant and their insects evovled with one another. Of course many insects, especially pollinators, can nectar from a wide range of sources, but still I imagine that native is almost always best.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Winged, and Other Things: Wildlife Wednesday, September 2018 | My Gardener Says…

  13. Pingback: Aflutter: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2018 | My Gardener Says…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s