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An all around peculiar plant. Much sought after by habitat gardeners as it is the only food for the caterpillars of the lovely large black and blue pipevine swallowtail butterfly.
Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia californica) is a whimsical looking deciduous vine with flowers shaped like an old time Dutch smoking pipe. The flowers appear in winter before the plant puts on its new set of leaves. The entire plant is odd enough to look like something that might have inspired Dr.Seuss. Among the vine’s peculiarities are its pollinators. Fungus gnats are attracted to the flowers’ slightly musty odor and become temporarily trapped in the tubular curves of the “pipe”. Soft light green fuzzy heart shaped leaves adorn the plant just in time for what I think of as chomping season. If you are lucky and find pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on your plant the insect larvae will devour leaves and stems almost as fast as they grow. Established plants seem to form a ground cover but can be trained up onto a fence, trellis or into a nearby shrub or tree. Plant in dappled light or part shade and keep the roots moist and cool until the plant becomes established. Once your pipevine is really growing it will be very drought tolerant. Be sure to allow it to spread into a sunny spot as the female adult butterfly seems to prefer to lay eggs on sun lit leaves.