Butterflies: The Pipevine Swallowtail

There is a beautiful butterfly that calls much of the United States home. Unfortunately for Southern California, it is very rare or nonexistent in many parts. This blue jewel is the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor).

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

The reason for a dearth of Pipevine Swallowtails in SoCal is that this butterfly's caterpillar host plant is the Pipevine, of which there are no species native to the area. Central and Northern California are home to the California Pipevine (Aristolochia californica), while the rest of the U.S. that this swallowtail inhabits has its own species of Pipevine, of which there are several.

There are small pockets of isolated communities of Pipevine Swallowtails in Southern California, thanks to plantings of various Pipevine plants in these areas. There are reported Pipevine Swallowtail  numbers in San Diego,  Orange, and Los Angeles Counties - especially in some of the older neighborhoods that were landscaped with their larval host plants at the turn of the last century when this genus was more popular in people's yards.

The most famous colony of Southern California Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies can be found at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Clairemont, Calif. due to the extensive plantings of California Pipevine growing there.

There is a lady living in Fullerton who grows at least three different vines in her garden specifically to support Pipevine Swallowtails, entertaining her own little cluster of resident butterflies that reside in her back yard year after year. She planted several vines of Aristolochia macrophylla and A. tomentosa in large pots with small trellises. In this fashion, these large growing vines are held in check. Their tendrils can reach up to thirty feet when planted in the ground, but in these pots she has been able to keep them easily within bounds.

Two very good and manageable host plant species that will attract any local Pipevine Swallowtails are A. californica and A. fimbriata . They don't get too large and sport curious-looking flowers that resemble old tobacco pipes, hence the common name.

California Pipevine (Aristolochia californica)

California Pipevine (Aristolochia californica)

White Veined Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata)
White-veined Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata)

If one feels especially bold and adventurous, try the two plants pictured above. With room, it would be easy to place one of the larger growing varieties such as Aristolochia macrophylla or A. tomentosa  in a large pot on a trellis, or even put in the ground and watch it cover an arbor or train it up a wall or on a fence.

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