Native Vine Aristolochia Californica Attracts Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies
While many North State plants slumber, waiting for the rains and chilly winds to pass, Aristolochia californica, a vining perennial also known as California Dutchman’s pipe or California pipevine, is just waking up from a long winter’s nap.
Native to riparian and woodland habitats throughout the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California, pipevine can be found from Monterey to Mt. Shasta.
This twining vine brings interest to the landscape with one-inch-long, curiously shaped blooms consisting of three fused sepals that resemble calabash pipes. Each flower is pale green with purple veins, and features a maroon-colored open mouth and throat that, along with the “meaty” aroma it emits, attracts fungus gnats that act as pollinators.
Once flower display is underway, chartreuse, heart-shaped leaves emerge from downy-covered stems. These leaves, as well as fluted seed pods, provide essential nutrients for Battus philenor hirsuta, more commonly known as California pipevine swallowtail – a butterfly endemic to Northern California.
In spring, the striking black butterfly with iridescent blue hind wings lays its tiny brick red, circular eggs exclusively on the pipevine – its host plant. Black larvae, or caterpillars, with orange spikes and spots running along their backs feed voraciously until it’s time to enter the chrysalis stage.
Pipevine In The Home Garden
With time and proper cultivation, pipevine will flourish in the home garden. Growing up to 12 feet, this semi-woody vine prefers partial shade and regular water. Pipevine thrives in loamy soil where it can easily put down roots, but will adapt to any soil type.
Gardeners who prefer a formal effect should plant pipevine at the base of a trellis or arbor and train it upward where the eye-catching flowers can shine. For gardeners with a wild heart, this deciduous vine is perfectly happy to act as a ground cover where it can mingle with nearby plants.
A good gardening adage to remember when planting pipevine is this: “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps.” Though it’s not invasive, pipevine can easily cover nearby vegetation and fences once it gets a foothold. A simple remedy is to selectively prune shoots during the dormant season or after bloom. If it gets too large too quickly, cut pipevine to the ground before spring growth appears.
To keep the home garden all aflutter from early spring through summer, plant other natives like salvia, lupine and yarrow, and non-natives like Jupiter’s beard, lilac and lantana, which provide nectar for adult pipevine swallowtail butterflies. Then stand back, watch your garden grow and enjoy the activity that results from your good work.
See Pipevine On The Sacramento River Trail
Head west from the Sacramento River Trail’s south parking lot at Court Street. Just before you reach the restrooms, look for pipevine rambling over shrubs and trees along the south side of the trail.
Pipevine can also be found near the Sundial Bridge. Start at the north end of the bridge and head west. Before you reach the pond, look on the north side of the trail where pipevine crawls up chain link fencing that borders McConnell Arboretum.
View pipevine blooms in February and March. In April, look for small black and orange caterpillars munching on tender leaves. Beginning in late spring, fully-grown caterpillars can be seen crossing the river trail to find the just-right location to build their chrysalises.
California Dutchman’s pipe, California pipevine
Zones 5-10; 14-24
Partial shade // Regular water // Any soil
Larval food plant // Deer resistant
Where to Buy
Local: Floral Native Nursery • 2511 Floral Ave., Chico
Online: Las Pilitas Nursery • www.laspilitas.com