Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer of the Pipevines

Among gardeners, it is common practice to change environments and create the conditions required for a particular plant.  Want blueberries?  Acidify your soil, because the mid-Ohio clay is not going to work for those acid-loving plants.

It is also possible, within reason, to accomplish the same thing with butterfly gardening.  As I add host plants to my yard, I am creating habitat, where none existed previously.  It may be pushing the envelope for some, but I just have to have big excitement in my life!

Pipevine Swallowtail, denizen of the south
 Take for instance the Pipevine swallowtail. It is generally a southern species, at least in Ohio. You'll find plenty of them in Shawnee or maybe Dayton, but not in my half of the state.  So we are pushing boundaries by introducing plants that normally don't grow here.  We are not talking about introducing non-native to the U.S. plants, just plants that are not native to my state.  Butterflies don't see state boundaries anyway!.

Dorsal view of Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philnenor
This metallic blue butterfly is a trendsetter for his fellow lepidoptera. Because they are somewhat toxic and distasteful to birds, other butterflies (i.e. Red-spotted Purples, Spicebush Swallowtails) mimic the coloration in order to confuse predators. Since there are no Pipevines, or Pipevine  Swallowtail in northern states, the "red-spotted Purples in Michigan and New York have the "White Admiral" coloration.

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar
 The Pipevines caterpillar has some kind of ugly going on.  It also utilizes nature's warning system of orange and black coloring.  Just like the Monarch butterfly, orange and black signals, "You don't want to eat me!"

The the flower is a 1 inch pipe!
 Pipevine Swallowtail are rare in northern parts, because their host plants are rare.  I have seen a native population of Pipevines at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.  The are apparently feeding on Virginia Snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria.  In southern states, the Pipevine uses a vine, Pipevine, Aristolochia macrophylla. It is a robust climbing vine, with unusual "pipe" shaped flowers.  The flowers are rather inconspicuous, but the butterfly makes it worthy of a place in my yard.

You might say I am practicing a little assistance for vegetation to keep up with the warming climate.  If it includes Pipevine Swallowtails free-flying in my yard, it works for me.

has become a chysallis.

The Pipevine caterpillar...
The caterpillar has fed on pipevine leaves for the last couple of weeks.  Next, he makes a run for it.  Many caterpillars travel away from their host plants before they go into their chrysalis, but these caterpillars were marathon racers!  It was nearly impossible to keep track of them as they wandered about.  

Finally, the caterpillar settled in and spun a cord to hold his body in place.  It will be a long winter and we won't see this guy again until next year (hint: he'll look quite different!)  This caterpillar's chrysalis was multi-colored ranging from brown to gray and spatter with orange.  One of his brother caterpillars has a lime green chrysalis, the better to blend in with the vegetation surrounding his chosen wintering location. 

If you would like to learn more about native plants and the wildlife which is sustained by native plants, I recommend attending the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton this weekend.  If you are unable to attend, then head to your local library and check out this book by Douglas Tallamy or anything by Rick Darke.  Now they collaborated on a new offering- and I hope there are copies available in Dayton.  See you there!

Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden is now availableBy Rick Darke and Douglas W. Tallamy 


  1. Cheryl: Thanks for the very informative post about one of Ohio's most striking butterflies. Have fun at the Midwest Native Plant Conference this weekend.

  2. Thanks Ian! I bet I catch up with you in person at some event- soon! Missed you at MWNP!