Many butterfly enthusiasts in Florida seek out Aristolochia (Pipevine) species to attract Pipevine Swallowtail and Polydamas Swallowtail butterflies to their garden. While their intentions are usually good, they often choose exotic Aristolochia species that are either detrimental to Pipevine Swallowtail larvae, or they choose an invasive species. These exotic Aristolochia species with a dark side are commonly available in the nursery trade. Many folks buy what is readily available and easily accessible to them. After all, plants do not come with labels that say “this species kills butterfly larvae”, or “this species is invasive”. I do, however, suspect that if people were aware of the consequences of using the exotic Aristolochia species highlighted in this article that they would avoid them. Now, on to the offenders!
ARISTOLOCHIA SPECIES TO AVOID:
Aristolochia gigantea (Pelican Flower) – This species can be toxic to Pipevine Swallowtail larvae. Not only has this been documented, but I have first-hand experience with this vine. Years ago, before I became an advocate for native plants, I planted Aristolochia gigantea. I was utterly excited because I was misinformed that this particular vine was a two for one, attracting both Pipevine Swallowtail and Polydamas Swallowtail butterflies. While this vine is palatable to Polydamas Swallowtail larvae, I would soon find Pipevine Swallowtails ovipositing (laying) their eggs on it, only to watch the young larvae perish after chewing their first meal. Alarmed that I had been luring them to my urban yard and straight into a death trap, I immediately removed the vine. Admittedly, this is just one of the many nature crimes that I’ve committed over the years, but an experience I have learned from and thankful that I am able to share this knowledge with other folks so that they can avoid this mistake. I recently came across an ad on social media from a well-known butterfly conservatory offering this plant for sale. At the end of this ad, the author explains that this vine can be toxic to Pipevine Swallowtails, but is great for Polydamas Swallowtails. Without question, this is counterproductive to attract one butterfly species to the demise of another.
Aristolochia elegans (Elegant Dutchman’s Pipe; Calico Flower) (synonym; Aristolochia littoralis) – Common names for this species include Calico Flower or Elegant Dutchman’s Pipe. While Aristolochia elegans is palatable for both Pipevine Swallow and Polydamas Swallowtail larvae, this species is a category II exotic invasive in Florida according to Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. Any plant, rather it is a category I or II invasive species, should be avoided. University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants on the impact of Aristolochia elegans: “Calico flower has been shown to escape cultivation in many areas of the world, including Florida. It has the ability to weigh down native plants and cause collapse under of the mass of vegetation produced. This creates an opening for opportunistic weeds to invade and take over an area. When the winged seeds of Calico Flower are dispersed, they will germinate wherever they land. This species is difficult to control once established because of above and below ground stems and roots that require numerous herbicide applications.”
Aristolochia ringens (Gaping Dutchman’s Pipe) (basionym; Aristolochia grandiflora) – According to the assistant curator at Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI Outside) BioWorks Butterfly Garden Exhibit, Aristolochia ringens is toxic to Pipevine Swallowtail larvae. After doing further research, I was unable to come up with further evidence of this claim. However, I have found MOSI Outside to be a reputable source of information.
FLORIDA NATIVE ARISTOLOCHIA SPECIES:
Aristolochia tomentosa (Woolly Dutchman’s Pipe) – Aristolochia tomentosa occurs in North Florida only in nine counties according to Atlas of Florida Plants. Growing this species in Central Florida or South Florida might be difficult because this vine is not adapted to the conditions in these regions. Here in my Sarasota County garden, I have found Aristolochia tomentosa to be extremely slow growing. I have tried growing this species several times. Each time, the plants grew to about 12 inches. They held on for about a year until they eventually withered away. Aristolochia tomentosa might also be tough to find in the native nursery trade, but not impossible. This is especially true in Central Florida and South Florida where this species is difficult to grow. However, if you want to throw caution to the wind, you can order Aristolochia tomentosa online from Mail Order Natives located in Lee, Florida. You may also inquire with the fine folks at your local Florida native plants nursery and they might be able to special order Aristolochia tomentosa for you.
Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia Snakeroot) – Aristolochia serpentaria occurs in North Florida Escambia County to Central Florida Desoto and Highlands County according to Atlas of Florida Plants. This is the only native Aristolochia species that occurs in Central Florida to feed Pipevine Swallowtail larvae. This vine is more of a ground cover and each plant only grows to about 12 inches and sometimes up to 3 feet. You would need more than several plants to sustain an army of hungry Pipevine Swallowtail larvae. Trust me, the gregarious larvae eat like there’s no tomorrow, so buy more than you think you need if you want to add this plant to your landscape. Aristolochia serpentaria is not easy to find in the native nursery trade, but it is worth seeking out. Ask your local Florida native plants nursery if they are able to special order this plant if they do not carry it.
If you have found that you’ve exhausted all resources and can’t grow or find Florida Native Aristolochia at a Florida native plants nursery, it might be time to forgo the hunt. Plant Florida native wildflowers and you will see them visit your beautiful garden frequently.