Anita Morton - Growing Gardens

Butterfly vine

A friend of mine had a great experience a few weeks ago he saw a female Richmond Birdwing butterfly at his place. This species is endangered due to the loss of its habitat and the lack of suitable food for the larvae to eat, so you can imagine how surprised and pleased he was to see it.

The only plant that will sustain the caterpillars of the Richmond Birdwing is the native vine Aristolochia praevenosa, more commonly known as the Richmond Birdwing vine. When our region was the Big Scrub, this vine was fairly common, but as land was cleared it disappeared, together with the butterfly.

The vine itself is a bulky plant, and will climb right up into the canopy of mature trees. Its not particularly attractive overall, and the flowers are small and rather smelly not a plant for the small urban garden. A. praevenosa is a vine for people restoring native habitat on their acreage property.

Fortunately, the vine grows well in most soils, provided they are reasonably fertile and moist. If you are adding the plant to a patch of established trees, plant it well away from the bases of the trees in a clear patch of its own. It will scramble towards the light and work its way up into the canopy you might like to put in a few bamboo canes to help it on its way.

The non-native enemy of the Richmond Birdwing is a garden plant, A. elegans (a kind of Dutchmans pipe). The butterfly is fooled into laying eggs on this instead of its true food, and the caterpillars die. A. elegans spreads easily by seed, and you may see it popping up after all this rain. Remove it if you do see it the heart-shaped leaves and distinctive purple and white flowers, shaped like a meerschaum pipe, are easy to recognise.


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