As long-time butterfly gardeners, we are aware of and cherish the many caterpillar food plants (host plants) on our property: Red Cedar, Black Cherry, Dwarf Hackberry, various oaks, Sassafras, Sweet Gum, Tulip Tree, American Holly, Red Maple, Persimmon, Arrowwood Viburnum, Winged Sumac, Elderberry, Trumpet Creeper, Virginia Creeper, Seaside Goldenrod, New England Aster, Joe-pye-weed, Boneset, Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Sweet Everlasting, Partridge Pea, Little Bluestem, Broomstem Bluestem, and many, many more.
Pipevine Swallowtails lay their eggs only on Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia. Keen on attracting these stunning butterflies and knowing how important it is to provide the host plant, especially when so specific, I was on the lookout for a source. Over fifteen years ago a butterfly gardening friend, George Bassett, shared one of his Dutchman’s Pipe vines with me. George’s garden in Linwood, New Jersey, has hosted Pipevine Swallowtails for years. My butterfly garden, now in its thirty-fifth year, had only rarely attracted one, and only as a visitor, stopping briefly for a sip of nectar.
I initially planted George’s vine on my chain link fence, but grape and Virginia Creeper quickly overwhelmed it and I could no longer find it after two years. George generously shared a second vine. Another wildlife gardening friend, Jesse Connor, had planted her Dutchman’s Pipe vine at the base of a large shade tree. I followed Jesse’s example and, in 2001, planted my second vine at the base of my Tulip Tree. With a little help (twine in strategic places), it climbed up the trunk.
It grew lushly, but each year the winter squirrel activity knocked it back to the ground as they chased each other up and down the Tulip Tree trunk. So, each spring I started over, training it back up the tree trunk. Several years ago, to thwart the squirrels, I wrapped loose netting around the trunk and wove the Dutchman’s Pipe vine through it. Now each spring it releafs the length of the vine and grows lushly about 20 feet up into the tree.
I planted a second vine at the base of a Dwarf Hackberry tree. The squirrels were not as attracted to this tree and the vine, with a little assistance, grew higher and higher up into the Hackberry. Today the vine wanders through the canopy and into nearby trees.
Despite my offering of two Dutchman’s Pipe vines, only rarely had we seen Pipevine Swallowtails in our garden. That all changed on June 3, 2012, when a female Pipevine Swallowtail flew round and round and round our Tulip Tree looking for just the right bit of our eleven-year old Dutchman’s Pipe vine to lay her eggs on.
She finally settled on a tender shoot way up and, aided by binoculars, we watched her lay 17 eggs in a single laying. Afterwards and for the next few days, she continued to wander round and round, but (at least while we were watching) never seemed to find another suitable leaf or stem to lay additional eggs on.
The eggs hatched in three days and the tiny caterpillars fed in a tight cluster until June 21, when they began to disperse. Soon my daily visits to the Dutchman’s Pipe grew more challenging as groups of two or three caterpillars moved off to feed on their own. Each day I wasn’t happy until I’d found all of them hidden under the leaves. In the last week they grew in leaps and bounds. They began disappearing between June 28 and June 30, when they went off on a walkabout to pupate.
As if all this wasn’t exciting enough, a second female Pipevine Swallowtail visited our yard June 28 and laid eggs on the vine growing up our Hackberry. These eggs weren’t as easy to monitor. But she or a second female returned every other day through July 8 and laid eggs on Dutchman’s Pipe seedlings coming up in our yard below the Hackberry. I had potted a seedling up for a friend and left it on the back porch only to watch her lay eggs on my gift. I couldn’t give it away until the eggs hatched and I had relocated the caterpillars to the larger plant.
I believe the Dutchman’s Pipe my friend George shared with me eleven years ago is Aristolochia tomentosa, Woolly Dutchman’s Pipe, native in the east, but not known from New Jersey where we live (though it is flourishing here). If you live in the East, others to plant in your garden include Aristolochia macrophylla (native all along the East Coast south to northern Georgia) and Virginia Snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria (native from southern New York and Connecticut south through Florida and west to Texas and Kansas). Others are available in the West like California Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica.
Every year (and for the past twenty-one years) I lead “Tours of Private Butterfly Gardens.” A special treat on the July 2012 tours was being able to show the group Pipevine Swallowtail eggs and caterpillars in our garden.
Plant it and they will come . . . eventually. We had waited patiently for eleven years and now our garden is swimming in Pipevine Swallowtails. A bright, fresh male visited the yard July 16, maybe emerged from one of our very own chrysalises, wherever they may be. It seems that a colony of Pipevine Swallowtails is establishing itself in our garden this summer. So, lesson learned, stay hopeful and keep trying!
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