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California Dutchman’s Pipe and the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

Story and photos by Jessica Calvillo

We all know that planting milkweed in our gardens will help provide habitat for monarch butterfly caterpillars but it doesn’t have to end there. Your garden can also become a nursery for another rare butterfly, the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor). This velvet-blue and black winged beauty was once common in the San Francisco Bay region but as more of its habitat has been lost to development it has become increasingly rare.

stages of a Pipevine Swallowtail
The stages of a Pipevine Swallowtail’s metamorphosis (Photo by Tim Wong @Timtast1c on Instagram)

This is where native/pollinator gardens can come to the rescue! Like its name suggests, the Pipevine Swallowtail’s host plant is the equally rare California Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia californica), a perennial vine endemic to Northern California that typically grows along streams in oak woodland, chaparral, mixed evergreen forests but is perfectly happy in a garden setting. This woody vine is deciduous in winter, spreads through underground rhizomes, and has unusual pipe shaped, brownish-red flowers. Because this is the only plant species that the Pipevine Swallowtail can use as a host, habitat restoration and inclusion of the CA Dutchman’s Pipe in our gardens are essential to the butterfly’s survival.

California Dutchman’s Pipe flower about to bloom
A California Dutchman’s Pipe flower just about to bloom at the nursery!

For example, a San Francisco biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, named Tim Wong, has been making huge strides in boosting this butterfly’s populations in his own backyard. By growing its host plant and carefully raising the butterflies in a protected environment he has successfully released thousands of this rare butterfly into the wild. It goes to show that with enough passion, dedication, and a green thumb we can all do our part to make a difference for california’s diverse array of pollinators. Drop by the nursery today to add one of these incredible vines to your garden. And to learn more about Tim Wong’s story, read “How One Man Repopulated a Rare Butterfly Species in His Backyard.”

The California Dutchman’s Pipe seed pod looks much like a star fruit
The California Dutchman’s Pipe seed pod looks much like a star fruit (Averrhoa carambola) but they are not actually related.



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