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What’s Blooming in Paradise: The calico flower makes a great host plant for butterflies

By Staff | Aug 10, 2016

Plant Subject: Calico Flower (Aristolochia elegans)

First impression: Ethereal, exotic, lush calico pattern in maroons and yellow on a sci-fi shaped flower. This pattern is on the front of two large fused, floppy flower lobes. The other side’s profile resembles a Sherlock Holmes shaped pipe in a lime green color. The light green leaves are heart shaped and smooth and sparsely spaced. Black butterflies are floating all around and laying their eggs on the constant new growth. You can experience your own sightings of these outer spaced shaped flowers in your Southwest Florida tropical garden.

Upon further investigation: The Aristolochia genus consists of 350 plus varieties of herbs and vines and calico flower is one variation among hundreds of these indescribable shaped flowers. Here’s my attempt, they have fused lobes as petals and unusual shaped calyxes. A paisley like pattern of rich maroons, purples and whites is embossed on the front of the two very large joined lobes.

This fusion forms a unique patterned hood that is soft and reminds me of a silk handkerchief. Turn our beauty sideways and you will see a light pea green soft pouch that is shaped like a pipe. This houses a curved funnel calyx that invites pollinators in, with an enticing aroma of rotting meat.

Once inside, they are trapped by backward pointing hairs. Trying to escape they begin thrashing around, and magically pollinate our flower. No worry, the hairs after time do relax and our weary pollinators escape to pollinate the next blossom. Its unique fruit reminds me of a small parachute and colored green like the leaves. After the fruits mature, they turn dark brown and releases oodles of seeds.

Calico flower is a fast growing vine that can fill up an arbor, fence or trellis. It is perfect for our temperatures of dry climates and coastal areas. Plant in partial shade to full sun in a well drained area. I plant this vine next to larger plants for a natural trellis, (sea grapes are perfect for this purpose).

The calico flower is a non-native and noninvasive plant which hails from South America. It is the host plant (plants on which butterflies lay their eggs) for the gold rim swallowtail butterfly (Battus Polydamus). You will find notice these rimless swallowtails fluttering all around it adding to the dimensional beauty. It’s not a take notice vine until the flowers bloom and then look out every one wants to know its name.

Present day, we use this beauty as a must have habitat plant in our gardens. Gentle reminder: butterfly gardeners have to re-evaluate spraying of insecticides as their use will interrupt the life cycle of our butterflies which is egg, larva, pupa and butterfly.


Unique flower

Neighbors will oh and ah

Fast grower

Host plant for Butterflies

Pollinators love it


Sci-fi buffs will appreciate its outer space look


Can be an aggressive grower

May grow weary of telling neighbors its name


Can be messy with spent flowers

Not cold hardy

Conclusion: Houston we have a problem! Aliens have landed and they have left behind an out of this world looking flower. Follow the unmarked blimp on your radar screen in your tropical eye catching garden. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!

Remember we have a yearly fertilizer restriction during July 1 through Oct. 2. This is a very important mandatory restriction to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into our precious waterways. Any fertilizing during our rainy season only ends up in our water resources as unwanted algae blooms.