Yellow or Mexican Butterfly Vine (Mascagnia macroptera): A Seasonal Look

While not the real deal, I welcome these butterfly doppelgangers to my garden:

The chartreuse seedpod is beginning its morph to the mature-seed incarnation.

This golden toast heralds the final seed product.


These two seed pod examples develop on a fabulous vine, the Yellow or Mexican Butterfly vineMascagnia macroptera. 

Butterfly vine is a native to Mexico, but grows southward into Central America.  Several sources I’ve come across mention that the early English naturalist and botanist, Joseph Banks, observed Butterfly vine growing in Brazil.  

I’ve grown my Butterfly vine for at least a decade, maybe longer–I don’t remember exactly when I planted it.  The thick, twisted main trunk confirms that mine isn’t a newby vine.

I first came across Butterfly vine when I was a volunteer gardener at my children’s elementary school about 20 years ago.  One grew at the back of a portable building, with western exposure and no water source readily available.  I recall that it was summer that I found the vine–a Texas summer, folks–and the vine was as fresh as a daisy and blooming its clusters of petite yellow flowers.

Full sun, drought-tolerant, deer resistant, and attractive?  Yep,  that’s a vine for me!

My Butterfly vine grows in an opposite situation, receiving only dappled or diffused light, depending on the season. Yet it thrives with the same great qualities as in full sun, though with fewer blooms most years.  The only maintenance that I employ with this vine is the same one that I do with my hair: tuck away those annoying, wayward tendrils that fall into my face!  I’ve never experienced any negative issues with this vine:  no debilitating diseases, no invasive insects.  

During a hard winter, where there’s at least one multi-day freeze well into the 20s or teens, the vine may be rendered dormant.  The last cold winter like that was in 2014.

The “butterflies” certainly held their own that winter, even when the rest of the vine suffered freeze damage.

Even with the vine losing its leaves to the hard freeze, the foliage returned vigorously from the roots and along the mature stems once longer days and warmer temperatures arrived.

Last year’s winter was mild, but a late, hard freeze blasted through in March. This is how the vine responded:

The vine lost a good portion–but not all–of its leaves; what was lost, came back quickly.  

In a mild winter like this one of 2019-20,  the vine retains its evergreen habit.

With climate change, I’m guessing that this vine is now mostly an evergreen for my  USDA zone 8B garden.  According to Monrovia, Butterfly vine grows in USDA zones 8-10.  I can imagine that for gardens growing significantly farther north than my own,  the vine is an annual or semi-annual plant.  

The vine flushes out during the wet and cool spring months, preparing for its summer/autumn blooming.

Green-n-growing-n-fresh is Butterfly vine’s contribution to the summer garden.  Typically, the yellow flowers don’t appear until mid-to-late summer, sometimes not until autumn.   In full sun, the flowers appear earlier and are more numerous.  Flowers on my vine are scattered, given the shady conditions that they grow in.

The number of bloom clusters also varies according to rainfall or irrigation.  I don’t water much–just twice per month during summer–but if there’s decent rainfall in late July, August, or September, the vine yellows-up nicely.  The vine weathers drought beautifully; I’ve never seen it wilt, nor does it lose leaves during that time.  But for its yellow beauties to perform, some extra wet stuff is an appreciated must.

Butterflies and honeybees sip the nectar, and I’ve seen lizards and smaller songbirds hide in the lush foliage, so I think Butterfly vine qualifies as a solid wildlife plant. 

Even with minimal rainfall, there are still pops of yellow along the vine. The vine blooms throughout autumn, with blooms eventually morphing into their seed-producing, butterfly selves. 

If you live in USDA zones 8-10 plant this lovely, fast-growing, water-wise vine. Yellow or Mexican Butterfly vine is friendly to a variety of pollinators and provides cover for other wildlife.  It’s not invasive and works well on trellises, fences, and arbors. Most years, you and your wild garden buddies will enjoy its spring and summer glory and its evergreen foliage in winter. In a mild winter, the vine retains its foliage and its butterflies. After a hard freeze, all bets are off.

But with this vine, you might have butterflies year-round!!