Caterpillar Dreamin’

So I’ve begun ordering stuff for fall planting, starting out by ordering one plant I MUST have. I know that I MUST HAVE IT, even though I’m not exactly sure where I’ll put it.

Dutchman’s pipe

The plant in question is Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla), a native vine with large, heart-shaped leaves. I could tell you that I’ve ordered this plant because the foliage adds an understated elegance to the woodland garden, but that would be a lie. I’ve ordered this plant because I want caterpillars – pipevine swallowtail caterpillars.

One of the instructors for the course in groundcovers and vines I’m taking at Chicago Botanic Garden brought in pictures of pipevine swallowtail caterpillars eating the leaves on HER Dutchman’s pipe. Seeing those caterpillars made me realize I must have this plant.

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar on Dutchman’s pipe leaf

I do have butterflies, but no caterpillars. And I yearn for caterpillars the way Linus yearned for a visit from the Great Pumpkin. This yearning is mostly unrequited. I have tons of milkweed, four different species, yet I have seen a grand total of two monarch caterpillars over the past nine years. I have planted dill, parsley, and fennel, but have not seen a single black swallowtail caterpillar. Oh, and I’ve got five spicebush, but – you guessed it – no spicebush swallowtail caterpillars.

Why do the caterpillars forsake me? I don’t know. Perhaps I am unworthy. Perhaps they are remembering some caterpillar I squished when I was nine years old.

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly seen from top

However, I am not giving up. It could be that pipevine swallowtail caterpillars are my destiny. Once they arrive on my Dutchman’s pipe, it will be like being seen hanging out with the most popular kid in school: all the other caterpillars will start showing up in my garden and inviting me to have lunch at their table in the cafeteria.

Finding a place that could fill an order for Dutchman’s pipe wasn’t that easy. Not many nurseries carry it, and it was out of stock at the first couple of nurseries I found that do sell the vine. Finally I was able to place an order at Shooting Star Nursery in Kentucky. I’ve had good experiences with them in the past.

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Now that my Dutchman’s pipe is coming, I have to figure out where to put it. It’s a big vine, so I’m thinking I’ll let it cover the backyard fence on the alley side. The fence is only 5′ high, but 50′ wide. Dutchman’s pipe is a twiner, so I’ll have to maybe put fishing line on the fence with eye hooks. It’ll be in part sun facing the alley, with fairly light shade.

Do you also yearn for caterpillars? Is there a name for that condition? Have you been successful at attracting caterpillars, and if so, what’s your secret?

21 Comments on “Caterpillar Dreamin’”

  1. I can’t say that I yearn for caterpillars, LOL. But I understand wanting to plant something to attract something else. I, too, accidentally squished a caterpillar when I was a kid–actually it was my sister’s caterpillar and we were having a caterpillar race, and I just wasn’t careful enough… Anyhoo, good luck with the Dutchman’s Pipe and the Pipevine swallowtail butterflies!

  2. You don’t use pesticides, do you? Or next door to a neighbor who does? That is one reason most people don’t caterpillars. Birds love caterpillars, too so they may be beating you to them. I found some spicebush cats today on my spicebush. they were tiny! Do you know about Journey North? their website tracks all kinds of birds and butterfly migration paths. Gives you a good idea who is seeing what. I use it to track the monarchs. Good luck with the pipevine!

  3. No caterpillars here – very few butterflies, either, despite the alluring plants and water. I have not seen even a tomato hornworm in years. Good luck with the Dutchman’s pipe. I wonder if it would cover my chain link fence?

  4. Hi Jason, what a curious common name for a plant, Dutchman’s Pipe? The caterpillar and butterfly pictures are beautiful. I don’t tend to see a lot of caterpillars but I do see the damage they leave behind on various leaves, although it’s not much. In the UK, it’s nettles that people are encouraged to grow (or leave) as they are supposed to be a favourite food. You could try nettles but be careful if you do. I like watching butterflies flutter about the garden too.

    • To understand the name, just google images for Dutchman’s pipe flower. Here in the US, nettles are the host plant for a buttefly called Red Admiral – do you have those in England? I know exactly how painful stinging nettles can be. Fortunately, there is a related plant called false nettle that does not have spines. It’s hard to find, but maybe I’ll grow some, if I can find the space.

  5. The Dutchman’s pipe will grow very well in light shade, it likes a bit of moisture. You’ll find it springing up from its root two feet away. (I could have dug you the piece that is growing in my pea gravel walkway. The leaves on mine get chewed on regularly, but I’ve never seen the caterpillar. I am usually inundated with monarch caterpillars and the regular swallowtails attacking the parsley and stray milkweed..

  6. Hang in there. They will show up. I planted passion flower vine for years before I started seeing caterpillars. This year, I’ve seen an abundance of Gulf Fritillary butterflies and their offspring. They will come. I’m sure of it. I’d also plant a lot of their favorite, adult, nectar sources to see if that will help.~~Dee

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