This past Saturday was the Eco-Friendly Garden Tour, and I was able to check out a handful of gardens. I saw some varieties of beautiful roses, milkweed, and new-to-me varieties of mullins, clematis, and grasses. One plant that many of the gardens had in common was Aristolochia californica, or Dutchman’s Pipe. This plant was one I had read about, and knew it was often an important feature in wildlife gardening, but I had never seen one growing before. Or if I had, I didn’t notice it.
Dutchman’s Pipe is a rather unassuming deciduous vine, native to Northern California. According my Sunset gardening book, it can cover a 8-12′ fence with training, or climb 10-16′ by its thin shoots into surrounding trees without harming them. It has small somewhat pitcher-like flowers that bloom in winter or early spring, before leafing out. The leaves are then heart shaped and bright green.
And it is the host plant of Pipevine swallowtail butterflies.
This species of swallowtail will lay their eggs on the pipevine, and when hatched, the caterpillars eat the plant’s leaves and seedpods. We saw several caterpillars on the plants viewed on our tour, munching away.
After the caterpillars have their fill, the pupate, then emerge as the butterfly to complete the lifecycle.
Hungry caterpillars will munch the leaves down to the vine, which could leave a rather ugly centerpiece in the garden. Interplanting seems like the best solution. One gardener had her pipevine planted with a rose, so the ragged leaves were not as noticeable. I would have walked right by it had I not seen bright caterpillar hanging from the unique seedpod.
Apparently, this vine will grow in any soil, needs partial shade and while it does best in regular to ample water, it can be drought tolerant once established. My goal is to create a wildlife-focused garden directly out my kitchen window, which will be watered by greywater system from the laundry, and hope to include this pipevine. I was concerned that such a concentration of caterpillars in one spot would be a beacon for hungry birds, but after doing some research on this species, I learned that many, including this species, of caterpillars are poisonous to birds, so they avoid them.
Wondering about the beautiful yellow swallowtail we are more familiar with? That’s likely the Anise swallowtail, whose host plant is the Apiaceae family, such as dill or fennel and sometimes citrus. Our beloved Monarch’s host is milkweed. I’ll be sure to include those plants in my butterfly garden as well!
Interested in having your own butterfly or wildlife garden? Here are some great resources:
- This site has an amazing database that’s searchable by region to discover what butterfly and moths are in your area. Apparently, there are 192 species in my county!
- How to create, and certify, a wildlife garden
- General tips & list of plants that attached bees, butterflies and hummingbirds
- List of common butterfly hosts