Just outside my living room sliding glass doors is my patio and garden area where I see several clusters of dainty brilliant yellow flowers sparkling and flirting with me. Upon inspection, I find them to be the flowers of my butterfly vine that is still in its pot.
They look like mini orchids. Five petals that each remind me of a miniature butter paddle I used at Gramma's porch when I churned her butter. Mascagnia macroptera, the name was given to this genus in 1824 by the Italian naturalist and physician, Carlo Luigi Guiseppe Bertero, to honor Paolo Mascagni, an Italian naturalist and professor of anatomy at the University of Pisa.
"Macro" in Greek means large and "ptera" means winged, referring to the winged fruit of this species. I recently gave a talk on Lepidoptera I have known and loved, fully realizing Lepidoptera means "scaled wing" in Greek for the butterflies and moths in its genus. Here it is used again. The seedpods resemble butterflies, which is why I sought out and bought this vine.
Dried, they are used in my class on flower designing. I painted them and glued them onto my dried design. With ferry sturdy and long-lasting papery pods, they are ideal plant bits for my dried designs. This plant was renamed from the Stigmaphyllon ciliatum classification.
First off, I need to plant this vine and not let it die in the pot, like many predecessors. This the first time I've had this plant bloom on me and I'm elated. Can my dried seedpods be far behind?
In researching it, I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but where there is a will there is a way. An evergreen vine with glossy dark green leaves, that twines by twisting itself around any support, it is an aggressive, heat-loving vine that can climb 15 to 20 feet. Without support, it will twist around itself into a mound or become ground cover with pruning. After being established, it can safely be pruned down to 2 feet to reduce size or re-invigorate. Pruning it into a small shrub seems doable to me. I saw a picture of the vine hanging down off a second story balcony planter. I only have a one-story home. Where to plant becomes a challenge for me.
Native to Mexico and central Baja, Calif., it is used as a great xeriscape plant in the desert Arizona. The USDA claims it as a native of the USA. Plants are cold hardy and evergreen from zones 7 to 11 but can freeze to the ground below zones 8, re-sprouting in the spring. It needs to be in a protected place in zone 7. The plant needs a well-drained soil with a pH of 6.1 to 7.8 and must be pruned regularly to keep it in bounds.
Sometimes called butterfly pea vine, yellow orchid vine or gallinita, it can bear seeds and blooms at the same time. The chartreuse, butterfly-shaped seedpods eventually turn tan and beige, drying to a dark brown throughout the season, still clinging to the vine. A rainbow of yellow, dark green, chartreuse, beige and brown, pruning it wisely keeps it in bounds. Water well until established, then little care is necessary with this sun loving vine, but partial shade is tolerated. It even tolerates sidewalks nearby. Climbing a mailbox is suggested, but I'm afraid I'd never find the mailbox and neither I nor my mailperson would be happy.
Soft-wood cuttings seem to be the best way to propagate, by layering with just laying a length of the vine down onto the ground and where you would like the plant to start, applying soil in that section. In 3 months you can clip it and have a plant. Cuttings do well, also, but many people have trouble with the seeds. They are inside the butterfly body of the pod. Viability is tested by rubbing the seeds between your fingers, if it crumbles, it is dead, if not, plant it. Scarify it first with several nicks in the seed shell. Germination is erratic. It is a vigorous, pest resistant, deer repelling, attractive vine.
As I understand, the seedpods can be picked when they are the chartreuse green and they stay that color; or you can wait until they are brown, papery and dried, then paint them. I saw a picture of them painted and applied to a grapevine wreath, a charming front door addition. In my design course, we apply them, painted or natural, to our dried arrangements for decoration. Just fluttering by and landing on our creation.
Where to plant my craftsy addition, should I put it up a trellis, let it tangle into a clumpy shrub or take over as ground cover? The leaving it in a big lump to form a semi bush has me at odds with the lawn mowing gentlemen. They have enough to avoid in the lawn. I have neighbors on walks that comment, "Oh, you must hate lawns, it's so full of flower beds."
I could try to squeeze it into one the flower beds, but I fear it running rampant over everything in that bed and becoming a Kudzu vine. I read where someone let it escape into a nearby woody area and it took over. Well, I have a Chinese Holly shrub in the middle of the empty lot next to me and it has taken over. My son-in-law clips it back off my property so we can move through that area, so there are worse things than taming a butterfly vine.
It is so worth having the unusual and useful vine. I guess I'll just keep it in the pot awhile longer and enjoy it from my living room. Like Scarlett O'Hara, "I'll think about that tomorrow", and just let it flutter by.
Thank you bushes and trees that give me oxygen and clear up pollution.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, Arbor Day chairman for IX Federated District, hibiscus enthusiast and Garden Club of Cape Coral member.