Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mea culpa!

Do you ever make gardening mistakes?

Have you stopped laughing yet?

Indeed, is there a gardener alive who has not made mistakes. For some of us at least, it is chiefly the way we learn.

But surely I must be the Queen of Mistakes when it comes to gardening. I mean I have made some real whoppers over the years. It's unlikely though that any are worse than the one I made this spring.

I was at the largest nursery in the Houston area, one which has branches all over town and in the suburbs. (It shall be nameless here, but anyone who lives here will know to which one I am referring.) I was picking up several plants to fill in gaps in my garden and I saw this table of healthy looking vines - pipevines, in fact. I wanted a pipevine to replace mine that had died the previous year, so I got one. I am unable to locate the label that was in the pot but my recollection is that all it said was Dutchman's pipevine.

It was a really nice plant and I brought it home and introduced it to its new home, and boy, did it like it here! It grew like crazy. I kept looking for it to bloom, but it never did. Until last week. I noticed these swelling buds on the plant. I included a picture of them in my Bloom Day post.

    My lovely pipevine - just about to bloom.

After I took that picture and looked at it later, I began to have some misgivings. It didn't quite look like the buds of the pipevines I had grown previously.

Then the buds opened and I knew something different was happening here.

 My Dutchman's Pipe vine in full bloom this week.

Uh oh, I thought, that really is not what I was expecting. I turned to my friend Google for information and that's where I learned that the plant I had purchased was Aristolochia gigantea, not Aristolochia tomentosa or A. macrophylla.

I had not even been aware that A. gigantea existed here - or at all, for that matter. It is a native of Brazil, and here's the kicker: In spite of its exotic beauty and its relationship to our native pipevines, its leaves are deadly to the larvae of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly!

Now, the only reason I had bought the plant for my habitat garden was to serve as a host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail, but inadvertently, through my ignorance, I had given any swallowtail larva that hatched on the leaves of this plant a death sentence. For, unfortunately, the Pipevine Swallowtail female cannot discern the difference and she will lay her eggs on it, thinking it is an appropriate host plant.

I do have Pipevine Swallowtails visiting my garden, though not in as great numbers as previous years, and I checked the leaves of the plant but did not find any eggs or small larvae, so perhaps it is not too late.

Now, I have to do one of the most distasteful things a gardener ever has to do - pull out and destroy a perfectly healthy and beautiful plant. All because I made a stupid mistake and was not as careful in my purchases as I should have been. Mea culpa and one more lesson learned. 


  1. Oh wow, I agree, that was one of the bigger mistakes I have heard of. I mean, I have done my fair share, but I haven’t introduced anything deadly to something I really wanted to attract to my garden. But it was an easy mistake to do, good on you for discovering it in time! Is it going to be one of those thuggish plants that will be impossible to get rid of, if you leave one tiny piece of root then the whole plant sprouts up again? Hope not, I am trying to get rid of an Acanthus spinosus I planted in my garden 9 years ago, seems I will be fighting a battle for years to come to get rid of it as every little root left will re-grow into a new plant! Lesson learned here too...

    1. Since this plant is native to Brazil, my thought is that it would be an annual here and probably won't persist. If not, it's the kind of thing that might justify usage of an herbicide to be sure it is gone.

  2. Oh my - I have this very same vine growing and the gold rim polydamas butterflies are multiplying like crazy in my garden . . . . They just love it. I read it is not toxic to them, but I hate the idea I may be "killing" any other swallowtails by allowing it to grow in my garden.

    1. Thank you, eli, for reminding me that I really should have mentioned that this vine is, in fact, a legitimate host plant for some butterflies. But none of those regularly frequent my garden and Pipevine Swallowtails do, so I really have no choice.

  3. OK, maybe because I'm a guy but I can justify keeping eggs off the plant and enjoying those dramatic blooms for the next two months. Maybe plants hurt when we sacrifice them in mid-season???? It's an annual.

    1. That's a fair point, I think. If I could be sure of finding the eggs, that would surely be an option, but the vine is so large and lush that I would be concerned that they might be overlooked.