Wednesday, February 17, 2016

California Pipevine

From Complete Garden Guide to the Native Perennials of California by Glenn Keator:

"Here is perhaps our most curious native vine. Roots penetrate deeply between rocks on brushy or wooded hillsides; stems wind their way around surrounding vegetation to reach light. Stems are covered with attractive, fuzzy narrowly heart-shaped leaves; flowers are often borne before new leaves appear at the end of winter. These are alway sure to catch attention — they are distinctly pipe-shaped, the sepals with three maroon-purple lobes at the opening to the 'pipe.' The rest of the floral envelope consists of brown and white stripes which surround and hide the stamens and pistil. Insects are fooled into entering the pipe, lose their orientation, and remain trapped until pollination is completed. Pipevine is capable of extending stems several feet in a season, but the new growth and leaves are normally lost in winter, to be replaced the following season. Cuttings and rooted sections are quite easy ways of propagating pipe-vine.

Since pipe-vine is more odd than beautiful, it might be displayed on its own trellis, rock wall, unsightly shrub, or simply up a small tree in the woodland garden. Since the pipe-vine swallowtail butterfly depends upon the leaves as food for its larvae, planting this species will attract these beautiful butterflies."

Louise Hallberg has almost single handedly assured all of us living here in Sonoma County of a plethora of Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies to enjoy. For many years she has led by example by planting and caring for this "curious native vine." We are so fortunate for her setting this example for gardeners who often plant this caterpillar food for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, thus supporting its flourishing numbers when most other butterflies are nearing extinction since their caterpillar food plants are becoming scarcer or disappearing altogether.

The many California Pipevines growing here at MuRefuge are covered with the what I see as beautiful flowers, looking like none of the other early blooming natives perennials. Two Winters ago a start was planted just inside the gate by the garage. This is the primary gate used to enter and exit the fenced area of MuRefuge. So the thought was "wouldn't a California Pipevine be an attraction at this location?" The plant and its dependent butterfly have not disappointed! Caterpillars were abundant last Spring and Summer, and now the entire vine on its trellis is covered with flowers with nary a leaf yet to distract from this eye catching display.

The California Pipevine in full bloom
      The California Pipevine leaves that are the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar food.

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars in varying sizes munching away at the plant specific food.

The California Pipevine caterpillar

The California Pipevine seedpod

The Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalis

Freshly emerged Pipevine Swallowtail

May we honor diversity, support ecological gardening and


  1. Wonderful! This will be my tiny little pipevine's 3rd year in the ground. I'm hoping this is the year it "leaps"!

  2. A local email: "Cathie – I was so interested and delighted to receive this since we planted a pipevine a couple of years ago, and it is covered with these fascinating, almost slipper-orchid-looking flowers, we just love them! They are so interesting. However, I don't know if we will get any of the butterflies, as ours might be the only garden around with a pipevine. But even if we don't get the butterflies, the plant is SO attractive itself! How interesting to get your blog about it right now! Thank you."

  3. An email from Petaluma: "Incredible!!! So enjoying the stunning pics also... WOW!!!!aEnormous thanks for sharing all these amazing wonders & gifts from nature!!aMuch Bliss & gratitude.. Jason & Vickie 💕💕🌷"

  4. An email from Palm Springs: "Cathie, I really enjoyed your blog post on the pipevine....such an unusual plant. Have not seen the flower before. I won't look for it here in the desert! Enjoy your beautiful garden. Love....A"

  5. An email from Healdsburg: "Hmmm. A friend gave me what was supposed to be a pipevine but nothing even remotely resembling this beauty appeared. Perhaps it died in the pot and what I got wasn't really supposed to be what I got? (ie. a sort of odd tomato and a lot of stinky weeds). If you ever have extras, I would like to try again!