Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

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.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - May 17, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens, Pests, Vines
Title: Caterpillars eating passion vines from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My question concerns Yellow passion flower, purple passion vine & butterflies. I have had my passion vines for 3-4 years, each spring they start growing beautifully, then in 1-2 days are almost completely stripped of leaves. I have found caterpillars eating them (makes sense this is their food supply) but after the caterpillars are done I see no further leaves until the following spring. And the process starts all over again. After 3 years I finally have seen 1 flower starting on my purple passion vine . By the next day something had chewed a hole in it. I don't want to deter the caterpillars; is there something I can do to help my plants recover after the caterpillars have dined?

ANSWER:

Okay, which comes first, the passionflower or the butterfly? Our observation of passionflowers in the wild or in somone's garden is that they grow rapidly and almost invasively, and even if the caterpillars ravage them, the next year the vines and flower are back, again.

Passiflora lutea (Yellow passion vine) is a major larval host to Julia, Mexican & Gulf fritillaries butterflies, Zebra & Crimson-patch longwing butterflies. It is shown on this USDA Plant Profile Map as being native to Travis County. Blooms May to September.

Passiflora incarnata (Purple passionflower) is a larval host to Gulf frittilaries, Variegated Frittilary, Banded Hairstreak and Red-Banded Hairstreak. According to this USDA Plant Profile, this plant tends to be native to counties to the east and south of Travis County. Blooms April to September.

Many of the webpages on individual larval host plants have pictures and a link to BAMONA (Butterflies and Moths of North America). You can click on this "Learn More..." link to BAMONA to see what other host plant there might be. There are pictures of the butterfly, the larva (caterpillar) and the chrysalis.

You probably already know that any insecticide will kill the larvae and reduce the chances of that butterfly recurring in your neighborhood. Both of the above flowers attract the butterflies, and the female then lays eggs, which develop into caterpillars.

There are other butterfly attracting and larval host plants native to this area, specifically members of the Asclepias (milkweed) genus. They tend to be a little weedy and maybe not so favored for their flowers as the passionflower, but the butterflies love to use them as nurseries:

Asclepias amplexicaulis (Clasping milkweed)

Asclepias asperula (Spider milkweed)

Asclepias asperula ssp. capricornu (Antelopehorns)

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed)

Asclepias oenotheroides (Zizotes milkweed)

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

Since the passionflowers are perennial, you might consider planting milkweeds in the same area to attract some of the butterflies laying eggs and thus the larvae. We have grown milkweeds and in spite of having many butterfly larvae on them, they have flourished and  bloomed again. Then, when your passionflower is either eaten up, but the larvae are gone and the flowering is over or nearly so, you could trim it back pretty severely. Plants really need to reproduce themselves and they will hopefully bloom again to produce more seeds.

But, back to our initial question-do you want the passionflowers or the butterflies the most? You need to remember that Nature would probably not allow a species to completely destroy its larval host. You may not end up with as many leafy, blooming passionflowers, but you would still have both them and the butterflies.

 

From the Image Gallery


Yellow passionflower
Passiflora lutea

Purple passionflower
Passiflora incarnata

Clasping milkweed
Asclepias amplexicaulis

Antelope horns
Asclepias asperula

Antelopehorns
Asclepias asperula ssp. capricornu

Swamp milkweed
Asclepias incarnata

Zizotes milkweed
Asclepias oenotheroides

Butterflyweed
Asclepias tuberosa

More Butterfly Gardens Questions

Butterfly plants for Washington DC area
June 28, 2009 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I am a teacher working with very young students to establish a wildlife garden. We received a donated butterfly bush of a smallish cultivar, but wondering if there is a native...
view the full question and answer

Best milkweed to plant in Fayette County, TX
September 23, 2014 - What is the best milkweed to plant in central Texas [Fayette County] in black clay soil? this soil does not drain well.
view the full question and answer

Propagation of Asclepias tuberosa
June 18, 2012 - Re: Asclepias tuberosa, "butterfly weed" bush -- I have a bed in a mix of Shoal Creek well-drained caliche, soil, and some enrichment of mulch that gets almost full sun and low water. After 4 yrs a...
view the full question and answer

Butterfly egg kit from Spring Hill FL
October 27, 2011 - Could you please tell me all native plant(s) I can buy for my Sons Painted Lady Butterfly kit (eggs are going to hatch soon)and I don't know what to buy for the baby caterpillars to eat. I contacted ...
view the full question and answer

Non-toxic plants for dog yard from Freeport PA
June 24, 2012 - I'm looking for wildlife-friendly native plants that aren't toxic to dogs. I have a place for some small shrubs and/or flowers. And a climbing vine that I could train on a trellis would work espec...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.