By Ramona Krucker, Gardener
The Butterfly Cottage, nestled under the English Oak near The Studio, has recently been claimed by a future butterfly for pupation and hibernation purposes. We first noticed the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) chrysalis attached by the back door about six or seven weeks ago.
Previously, there had been sightings of fully grown caterpillars feeding on the leaves of the Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia californica) growing on the fence behind the Cottage.
This native plant, which is most commonly found in riparian areas in Northern California, is the only host plant for the isolated California subspecies of the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta). Populations of Battus philenor are also found east of the Rockies from New England to Florida and in parts of the Midwest. The California subspecies is smaller and hairier (hirsuta means hairy). Another difference is that the California subspecies is predetermined to enter diapause or hibernation in the pupal stage, emerging when conditions become more favorable, whereas populations of the Eastern version living in warmer climates only pupate for a week or two.
While the specialized diet of the larvae can be a challenge for the species’ survival in times of habitat loss and climate change, it comes with one important advantage: compounds sequestered from the host plant make both the voracious black caterpillar with its bright red tubercles as well as the butterfly that follows taste bad to birds and other predators.
If you would like to attract this handsome black and teal colored butterfly to your own backyard, you can plant two or three Dutchman’s pipevines, under a tree or beside a trellis or fence, preferably in moist shade. They will grow rapidly once they take off, generally in the second or third year. For inspiration, we recommend the drawing/painting by Nancy Wheeler Klippert, on view at the Studio as part of the Mount Tam Florilegium starting September 22.