Wooly Pipevine for Pipevine Swallowtails
For several years, wooly Dutchman's pipe has grown in my garden. Before the pipevine, I rarely saw the beautiful pipevine swallowtail butterflies. Now that the pipevine is well established and growing vigorously, the pipevine swallowtails are frequent summertime visitors.
Aristolochia tomentosa is a pipevine that grows vigorously in my garden, and it is suitable for gardens in most of the Southeastern and south-central United States (USDA Zones 5-10), for the vine is native within this range. A member of the Aristolochiaceae family, this pipevine is only one species of an estimated 49 different species of pipevine according to GRIN (Germplasm Resources Information Network).
Aristolochia tomentosa is sometimes called woolly pipevine because of the short hairs on back of the leaves giving it a soft, fuzzy texture, or woolly Dutchman’s pipe because of its resemblance to –you guessed it – a Dutch smoking pipe. A deciduous twining vine, wooly pipevine grows primarily along streams and in moist woods where it can be found climbing 20 to 30 feet tall among trees and shrubs. Large heart-shaped leaves four to eight inches wide and long grow so abundantly on the vines that the curious pipe-shaped greenish-yellow flowers are rarely seen but can be found upon close examination in late spring or early summer. I am particularly proud to have this plant in my garden, for it is endangered in the wild in Florida.
In the garden, place pipevine in well-drained but moist soil in full sun to part shade. Provide a sturdy trellis or support for its vigorous growth. In my own garden, the dead-looking vines are cut back to the ground in winter, but they come back up in spring and grow vigorously. Some gardeners choose not to cut back the vines, because even though they look dead, they are not. New growth will emerge from the dead looking vines in the spring. The vigorous cutting back in my garden controls growth to some extent, though the plants are still vigorous and loaded with new leaves when the pipevine swallowtails pay a visit.
Wooly pipevine is hard to find in regular nurseries, but you might find it in nurseries specializing in native plants. Several online sites list it as available for purchase. Certainly for those of us within its native range, the wooly pipevine is worth searching out.
Be careful where you plant this vine, for it spreads. In my garden, vines can be found coming up in places all around the area. New plants come up from the roots, and if not controlled, will spread and cover more than you want covered in the garden. A site surrounded by frequently mowed lawn or a place bounded on all sides with a wall, a concrete patio, or other barrier would be ideal. Planting in a large container might also work if a way can be found to keep roots from escaping the container.
Pipevine can be started from sprouts surrounding a mother plant, or they can be started from seed. Harvest seedpods when they are dry and store in a dry place over winter. Sow in seed flats indoors in late winter if desired, or wait until danger of frost has passed and direct sow in place. Plants are also easily rooted from stem cuttings taken in spring on new terminal growth and placed in a glass of water. Plant in soil after a clump of roots has emerged. As with most vines, new starts can be made by simple layering.
Benefit to Butterflies
Wooly pipevine is the host plant for the beautiful pipevine swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor). Watch for the butterflies and for the curious black caterpillars with bright orange projections sticking up from their backs. The female butterfly lays her eggs in bunches, and the caterpillars are voracious. Do not worry if they leave holes in your pipevine, or even if they completely defoliate the plant. The plants will grow back and be ready for the next group of caterpillars when more eggs are laid.
It should be noted that all pipevines are poisonous. Even though the aristolochic acid has medicinal properties, it is a renal toxin and probable carcinogen. On humans the acid supposedly stimulates white blood cell activity and enhances healing. Some claim that it acts against tumors. However, it is damaging to the kidneys and is not recommended. Obviously the pipevine swallowtails are immune to this poison, and they use it to make themselves unpalatable to birds and other predators.
Consider including a wooly pipevine in your garden if you live within its hardiness and adaptability range. Certainly it is a prime candidate for butterfly gardens. As the saying goes, “Plant it and they (black pipevine swallowtail butterflies) will come.” I know for a fact it’s true.
While the wooly pipevine is the topic of this article, many more are native to the United States and suitable for gardens. Some non-native pipevines should be chosen with caution. These other pipevines will be the topic of my next article.
Thanks to MissSherry for the photo of the pipevine butterfly on a zinnia, to magpye for the butterfly larva, and to debnes_dfw_tx for the picture of the wooly pipevine flower.