Birds and Blooms Blog

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Drought-Tolerant Butterfly Vine

Jill Staake

With a name like “Butterfly Vine”, you’d assume this pretty climber would be covered in fluttering wings. And it is – but not quite the kind you expect. Instead, Butterfly Vine (Mascagnia macroptera) is named for its seed pods, which do indeed resemble a small butterfly in flight.

Drought Tolerant Butterfly Vine

Seed pods of Butterfly Vine. They change color as they mature, turning pinkish and eventually brown.

Butterfly Vine is native to Mexico and regions south. It grows well in warmer parts of the U.S., especially zones 9 and higher, where it will ramble up to 15 feet high and wide. The delicate yellow flowers, which resemble orchids, bloom starting in spring and continue on throughout the year until frost. The seed pods appear soon after the flowers. They are a light green color at first, darkening to brown as they mature.

Drought Tolerant Butterfly Vine

The delicate flowers resemble orchids, and butterfly vine is covered with them from spring to fall.

Those in zones 8 and even 7 can give this vine a try, especially if planted in a sheltered area that receives plenty of direct sun. Try it up against a west-facing wall, where the radiant heat will protect it. It will die back to the ground in winter, but should return in spring. If you live further north, you can even try growing this as an annual vine, since it grows extremely fast. Collect the seed pods in the fall and start it again each spring.

Drought Tolerant Butterfly Vine

Give butterfly vine room to ramble… it grows fast!

One of the great benefits of Butterfly Vine in warmer regions is its drought-tolerant nature. This plant loves heat, and can take on very dry conditions once established. Try Butterfly Vine in areas that other plants can’t handle; it’s great for planting by a mailbox or other exposed area. Just remember to provide room for it to climb or ramble, or plan to prune it to keep it in check.

Winner of our Outdoor Animal Video Contest


Congratulations to Thomas Vitale! He’s the winner of our Outdoor Animal Video Contest. Thomas submitted a charming video of a deer and a rabbit. Enjoy it below!

Thanks to everyone who submitted videos and voted. Check out our YouTube channel to see more funny videos and expert Q&As!



Bird Species Profile: Northern Shoveler

Rob Ripma

Although the start of fall signals that we are heading toward the winter and colder temperatures, I always look forward to the season because it means that ducks will be starting to migrate. One of the species that I always look very forward to seeing is Northern Shoveler.

This Northern Shoveler is in the process of molting.

This Northern Shoveler is in the process of molting.

Northern Shovelers have already started their migration and can be seen throughout the United States right now. They are wetland specialists and make use of this habitat in all seasons so if you’d like to see one, head out to your local wetlands! You can see recent reports of the species on eBird by clicking here. This species can be seen in all 50 state including all the way out in Hawaii where some will spend the winter. Can you imagine flying all the way over the ocean to get to Hawaii?

The name shoveler comes from their large shovel-like bill. When feeding, they swing this unusual bill through the water and strain food from the water as it passes through.

I photographed this female Northern Shovler at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Texas last November.

I photographed this female Northern Shovler at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Texas last November.

Have you ever had the opportunity to see Northern Shovelers?


Watch a Butterfly Feeding

Jill Staake

Butterflies can be skittish creatures. When you try to get close, they take off in another direction. Working in a free-flight butterfly exhibit gives me the chance to observe their behavior up close, and this week I shot this video of a Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe) butterfly feeding on the flowers of Mona Lavender (Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’). Take a look, and watch the butterfly use its proboscis to get at the nectar deep inside the flower. (Learn about the proboscis and other basic butterfly anatomy here.)

One thing that was interesting to us as keepers of the exhibit was the fact that this butterfly was feeding on a plant that not very many other butterflies use for nectar. The reason is most likely because Mona Lavender has a very deep, narrow flower. The nectar is at the very base of the inside of the flower, at the end of the tube, and a butterfly must extend its proboscis all the way down to the bottom to feed. Butterflies have different proboscis lengths, and it’s not necessarily based on the size of the butterfly itself. For instance, this little Sleepy Orange is only about the size of a quarter, but it has a very long proboscis compared to other butterflies. This allows it to feed on flowers that other butterflies can’t – an evolutionary advantage.

Sleepy Orange Butterfly Feeding

Jill Staake A Sleepy Orange butterfly feeding on Mona Lavender.

Butterflies and moths are thought to to have co-evolved with flowers in many cases, with the flowers developing tubular shapes that only certain butterflies or moths can reach. Flowers benefit from visits by these butterflies and moths, since they serve as pollinators. In the 1800s, Charles Darwin noted an orchid found in Brazil with a flower tube so long that the insect which pollinated it would need a proboscis of at least 10 inches. Sure enough, another scientist eventually discovered he was right. The so-called Predicted Moth (Xanthopan morgani) has a proboscis that measures over 11 inches! Learn more about this amazing story here.

Have you ever watched a butterfly feeding? Share your stories in the Bugs & Butterflies forum in our Community!

You Don’t Say: Head First


You Don't Say

In our November issue, we feature this fun snapshot from Gilberto Sanchez of El Paso, Texas. Do you have a clever caption for this picture? Share it below and you might see your caption and name printed in the January issue of Birds & Blooms Extra!

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