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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - February 02, 2006

From: Cypress, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Non-native tropical Butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera) in Houston
Answered by: Joe Marcus and Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

HOWDY . . . Miss Smarty Plants !!! I am trying to identify one of the most intriguing, unusual & beautiful vines that I have ever seen. I encountered this vine at the home of an 87 year old widow living in The Heights (just North of downtown Houston). The vine itself grew along her chain-link fence, for a total length of around 15 feet. It was lush yellow-green in coloration. The most identifiable characteristic of this vine . . . is its seed . . . they are protected (?) transported (?) by what I can only describe as looking exactly like "butterfly" wings. These butterfly wing "flowers"(?) are bright yellow green during the summer growth period . . . but turn the most brilliant shade of yellow in the fall. I have several of the seeds and have given them to friends who attempt to grow a vine from them . . . to no avail. I am trying to germinate five (5) of the seeds now by cold stratifying them for 7 days . . . we'll see what happens !!! This is about all that I know of the plant, as she simply referred to the vine as her "Butterfly" vine. The only "flower" that I saw on this plant were the aforementioned "woody" wings surrounding the seed . . . think of a butterfly and you've got the picture. The "abdomen" would be the seed . . . The "wings" are about the size of a medium sized butterfly . . . with very orchid-like characteristics, in appearances only . . . its not a "flower" in the true sense of the word. Have you ever heard of such a vine or am I daydreaming ???

ANSWER:

You aren't daydreaming, your vine is Butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera). It is native to Mexico (Baja California). There are more pictures on the Desert Tropicals and the Top Tropicals web pages.
 

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