Russell Studebaker: Dutchman's pipevine habitat of swallowtail butterfly
BY RUSSELL STUDEBAKER In Our Gardens
Saturday, June 09, 2012
6/09/12 at 5:05 AM
Gardening for butterflies has been popular now for several decades. And one native Oklahoma butterfly that is interesting to attract is the pipevine swallowtail. This is a black butterfly with blue-green on the hind wings, two black tails, and a curved row of orange spots showing when at rest on the underneath of the lower wings.
This swallowtail has a specific relationship with the Dutchman's pipevine plants, the Aristolochia species. This butterfly's larvae will eat only the foliage of these plants, and in the process they ingest aristolochic acid, a toxin to which they are immune, which results in them becoming distasteful if not toxic to predators. The caterpillars' bodies retain the toxin through their change into adult butterflies, and their lives are safeguarded.
Other species of black swallowtails - such as the spicebush swallowtail, the black swallowtail, the Ozark swallowtail and the dark morph of the female eastern tiger swallowtail - mimic the appearance of the pipevine adults and enjoy a more predator-free life.
The pipevine's life cycle begins with their emerging from their chrysalis in March. They mate, and females lay several rust-colored eggs on the pipevine plants. These hatch in a few days. The up-to-2-inch larvae are black with fleshy filaments arising from their sides and two rows of orange-red warts on their dorsal sides. On their heads they have two horns (antenna) and two osmeteria, an extended fleshy organ that can release a pungent odor to deter predators.
The caterpillars often travel in groups and prefer the young, tender growth of the vines. Two broods are common per year, and they will move away from the vine to overwinter as a brown or green chrysalis in a heads-up position suspended from a single silk thread.
Hatching from the chrysalis takes only a few weeks, but if the larvae pupates in late summer or fall, it stays in its chrysalis until spring.
Our Oklahoma native pipevine, Aristolochia tomentosa, is a perennial woody vine with large heart-shaped leaves and can climb 10 to 30 feet. It grows best in sunny areas in well-drained soils. And its name comes from the small 1-to-2-inch flowers that are shaped like a Dutchman's smoking pipe. A word of caution: In time these vines can spread greatly by sprouting, but unwanted growth can be controlled with Round-Up herbicide applications.
In the Victorian era, before air conditioning, pipevines (particularly the large-leafed species A. macrophylla) were planted on porches and arbors for their thick canopy of leaves that would screen the entire porch in a private shady retreat.
If you have some shade and a Dutchman's pipevine, you can watch nature perform with butterflies, eggs hatching and the development of caterpillars into their chrysalis.
Dutchman pipevine plants can be found at Pine Ridge Gardens, London, Ark., 479-293-4359, pineridgegardens.com.
Original Print Headline: Butterfly attracted to pipevine
Russell Studebaker is a professional horticulturist and garden writer in Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A black swallowtail butterfly swoops under a hovering spicebush swallowtail butterfly over a patch of horsemint in a pasture. Black swallowtails are generally slightly smaller than spicebush and have more yellow markings, while spicebush have blue-green half-moon shapes on their wings. KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World
The pipevine caterpillar feeds only on pipevine plant foliage. RUSSELL STUDEBAKER/Courtesy