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
4 ratings

Wednesday - May 27, 2009

From: Tyler, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Vines
Title: Which Aristolochia species are toxic to pipevine swallowtail larvae
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

In a May 30, 2008 question regarding the toxicity of certain Aristolochia species to pipevine swallowtail larvae, I had heard the same from at a talk from the curator of the Cockrell Butterfly Center in Houston (also a similar toxicity of non-native Passiflora species to Fritillary). Having been given a pipevine plant, but not knowing the species, I tried to find out answer to the same question. It seems the A. elegans species is reported to be toxic. Wondering if you have any updated information?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants contacted Dr. Nancy Greig, the Curator of Entomology and the Director of Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science about your question.  Here is what she said:

"Certainly caterpillars of at least the native Battus philenor (Pipevine swallowtail) seem to prefer and/or survive better on some species rather than others.  We are hard put to find native Aristolochias around here, but people grow several tropical species including vines such as A. elegans, A. grandiflora, and more recently a sort of shade-tolerant ground-cover species, A. fimbriata, has hit the nursery trade.  The latter species is a great attractor of both pipevine swallowtails and polydamas swallowtails, which are as of the past few years equally common here.  Battus polydamas, Polydamas swallowtail is more of a tropical species that seems to have moved northwards to include Houston in its range.  Several people have told me that while B. polydamas caterpillars seem to be able to survive on some of the tropical viney Aristolochias, B. philenor caterpillars sicken and die on them. However, both butterflies do equally well on A. fimbriata.  I cannot speak to the palatability of native Aristolochias to either species, as they are not commonly grown here.

And, as far as fritillaries and Passifloras go, there are some species of Passiflora (e.g., P. vitifolia) that fritillary caterpillars will not eat/do not survive on.  In the case of P. vitifolia I always assumed it is because the leaves are quite tough as compared with the species the caterpillars do eat.  Dr. Larry Gilbert (Professor, Biological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin) could tell you that most Heliconius species eat a limited suite of the available Passifloras in a given habitat.  Certainly we cannot assume that the caterpillars of a given species of butterfly can eat every species in a given genus of plant.  Sometimes the specialization is more finely tuned than that."

Dr. Greig also said that she had spoken to Joshua, who is the enthusiastic and knowledgeable owner of Joshua's Native Plants and Antiques in Houston Heights.  He says that the Aristolochia species that is toxic to Battus philenor (the native pipevine swallowtail) is A. gigantea (Brazilian Dutchman's pipe), the species with the huge, purple-velevety flower.  However, Battus polydamas does fine on it.  According to him, other Aristolochia species including A. triloba, A. elegans, A. fimbriata, and A. tomentosa are palatable and safe for both Battus species.  He says that B. philenor females will occasionally lay eggs on A. gigantea, but the larvae sicken and die.

The native Aristolochia species that can be found in the general vicinity of Tyler and Smith County, Texas are:

Aristolochia reticulata (Texas dutchman's pipe)

Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia snakeroot)

Aristolochia tomentosa (woolly dutchman's pipe)


Aristolochia tomentosa

 

 

More Vines Questions

Report on object glowing in tree in New Hampshire
August 04, 2013 - Hello again Mr Smartpants. I commented about a purple glow coming from a tree in previous comments. Since then they have multiplied and are spreading to different trees. We believe we may have it narr...
view the full question and answer

How to get rid of invasive vine
November 14, 2007 - We moved into our very old (300+ year house) several years ago and I am slowly getting round to cleaning up and replanting flower beds. When I cleared the space to grow clematis along a fence in the b...
view the full question and answer

Fruit crops to grow in Tennessee mountains
May 27, 2013 - My property has a lot of rock formations throughout it and has hundreds of cedars where it is not pasture. I am wanting to grow fruit trees and berry bushes but don't know what can grow in this e...
view the full question and answer

Vines for trellis in Livermore, CA
October 29, 2009 - I am looking for a native vine for a northern California location. It's Livermore California with a climate intermediate between the SF Bay and the Central Valley. Some frost in the winter. Maybe 10 ...
view the full question and answer

Low Ground Cover for Steep, Shaded PA Site
February 17, 2014 - I am located in Downingtown, PA, right on the border between Zone 6 and 7. Please provide a recommendation of a native ground cover for the following conditions: steep slope (greater than 45%), full s...
view the full question and answer

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