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Friday - May 30, 2008

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Vines
Title: A Pipevine poisonous to Pipevine Swallowtails
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have heard that a specific Pipevine is poisonous to the larva of Pipevine Swallowtails. Is this true? If so, what is the poisonous species of Pipevine, and what other types can I plant that will not be poisonous? Thank you!


All of the pipevine plants native to North America (which is what we deal with at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center) are members of the genus Aristolochia. Many experts consider all parts of plants of that genus to be toxic. In an article by the Napa Valley Master Gardeners, we picked up this information on the toxicity of the plant to the pipevine swallowtail.

"All parts of the pipevine plant, including the seed pods, are toxic to humans. In contrast, caterpillars can ingest the toxins, but then they become unappetizing to birds. Yellow jackets also have no problem cleaning out the pods as soon as they open."

So, apparently, the toxicity in the plant is for the protection of the caterpillars for this beautiful butterfly. We could find no reference of any kind about any member of this genus being poisonous for the larvae. We did note that the plant is not considered a nectar source for the butterfly; perhaps because the nectar would be toxic for the adult.

Here are the species of Aristolochia that are native to Texas:

Aristolochia coryi (Cory's dutchman's pipe)

Aristolochia erecta (swanflower)

Aristolochia pentandra (Marsh's dutchman's pipe)

Aristolochia reticulata (Texas dutchman's pipe)

Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia snakeroot)

Aristolochia tomentosa (woolly dutchman's pipe)

And here is a page of pictures of various species of Aristolochia.

Aristolochia erecta

Aristolochia tomentosa




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