Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

If you're interested in butterfly gardening, find a place for a passionflower!  Passionflowers are beautiful, fast-growing vines and are larval hosts for the Gulf Fritillary butterflies, one of the more common local butterflies.  Although the adults may sip nectar from a variety of sources, the young are adapted to feed only on passionflowers like Passiflora incarnata, P. lutea or P. caerulea.  If you plant one of these vines, the butterflies will surely follow!

My passionflowers have all migrated to my neighbor's wall and they are covered with flowers.  This large rambling vine needs room to grow, and if it doesn't get the right amount of sun, it will wander away until it finds it.  They can spread over 30 feet, and tend to lose their leaves in the winter.  They also sprout up rather far from the mother plant, so take care -- it's not a vine to include in a neat, tidy garden.  Don't worry when the caterpillars begin to chew on the leaves.  Passionflowers will typically recover rapidly from the damage.  If you are concerned about the rapid defoliation, hand-pick some of them, leaving some to mature into butterflies.

Gulf fritillary butterflies are present almost year-round here, but as fall approaches, they often mass for a southward migration.  The passionflower vines are alive with butterflies then!  Females lay eggs on passionflower vines, which hatch into orange caterpillars.  The caterpillars change their appearance as they grow through several stages, finally constructing a chrysalis that looks like a dead leaf.  The time it takes for the caterpillar to progress through these stages, and for the butterfly to emerge from the chrysalis, will vary according to the temperature and the availability of food.  The more the caterpillars eat, and the warmer the weather, the faster they'll proceed through their life cycles.  And then it starts all over again!

There is talk that the red-flowered varieties of Passiflora are toxic to Fritillary caterpillars.  I have not found this to be true in my garden.  The fritillary caterpillars don't seem to eat it, but they aren't dropping dead either.  The caterpillars themselves don't sting but are toxic to predators (hence the bright colors).  I wouldn't advise eating a bunch of them, but I can tell you my dog did, and suffered no ill effects.


  1. I love Gulf Fritillary caterpillars -- and I'm glad to know that about the red passionflowers. I don't have any, luckily -- do you know the variety? Right now I'm enjoying the Maypop blooms and letting the Passionaflora lutea grow. Who knows where they'll end up! Great pics!

  2. Hi Meredith
    There's a red one called Passiflora vitifolia (leaves like grape vines) but it's tropical and may freeze where you are. And there's Passiflora coccinea. It should be hardy in the south part of Zone 9. I have that one -- and I never noticed that it troubled the fritillaries at all. There are a few other red ones, but those two are the most commonly available, at least around here!