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. I follow the vine from mature woody stems at the base, terminating with thin tendrils that attach itself easily to any surface or protrusion. 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 at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.
Upon further investigation: The Aristolochia genus consists of 350 plus varieties of herbs and vines. Calico Flower is one variation of hundreds of indescribable shaped flowers. Here 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. Calico Flower is non native-non invasive, who hails from South America. It is the host plant -- aka 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. In days long ago, medicine used plant as a remedy for pain during childbirth. Present day, we use this beauty for our enjoyment and a must have habitat plant in our gardens. Gentle reminder: butterfly gardeners have to re-evaluate spraying of pesticides as their use will interrupt the life cycle of the butterfly which is egg, larva, pupa and butterfly. Want to learn more about butterflies? Don't miss our 12th Annual SWF Butterfly Conference, Saturday Nov. 3, 2012. For more information log on to: Lee County Extension Website lee.ifas.ufl.edu/Hort/ButterflyInformation.shtml
Pros: Unique flower - Does well in sandy soil - Neighbors will oh and ah - Salt tolerance Fast grower Host plant for Butterfly Pollinators love it Non invasive - Sci-Fi buffs will appreciate its outer space look.
Cons: Can be aggressive grower May grow weary of telling neighbors its name. Pollinators love it - Re think/tolerate caterpillars and nibbled leaves Non Native Can be messy with spent flowers - Not cold hardy.
Conclusion: Houston we have a problem! Aliens have landed and they have left behind out of this world looking flowers. Follow the unmarked blimp on your radar screen to our tropical eye catching garden.
Don't wanna miss this bloomer!