California Pipevine is a fascinating plant because of it's intriguing flowers and unique relationship to the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, who's larvae feed only on the leaves of this plant. Gardeners may be familiar with Duchman's Pipe, a related exotic ornamental species. Our native species is quite drought tolerant once established though it really prefers ample water and rich soil. It tends to grow along the ground and takes some coaxing to get it to climb. Pipevine is frequently seen as an inconspicuous component of grassy meadows, or it can grow directly in creeks, or climbing shrubs in filtered shade. The leaves turn brown and tend to hang on in winter looking somewhat scruffy so mix it in with something else. Expect it to spread widely as a ground cover.
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A fat caterpillar. The bright markings indicate they are poisonous though if not common locally, birds might take a while to learn this. A healthy population can wipe out a single vine but it will resprout readily. Best to have a large population of vines to support the butterflies.
The flowers come out in masses in early winter as young leaves begin to unfold.
The flower attracts fungus gnats for pollination.
A pair of butterflies mating on San Bruno Mountain. The back of their wings have an irridescent blue cast.
The seed pods have an interesting look, they split open like a melon when ripe.
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