Want to See the Gulf Fritillary Life Cycle? Plant Passionflower!

Butterfly and flower with stalks of grass around it

It took the death of an oak for me to start raising gulf fritillaries. My yard is small and much of it is paved, so I have limited garden space. I had been wanting to plant passionvine, but heard that it could spread far, and unpredictably. Where would I make space for it?

Then, last June, our laurel oak fell over. Onto both of our cars. When we had it removed, I paid extra to have the stump ground. For months, Amy and I pondered and debated over how to replace this shade tree. I let things grow, and we soon had a hedge of native shrubs around the stump area. It consisted of several fanpetals and beautyberry bushes, plenty of Bidens alba, some dog fennel, and a single pokeweed. I turned this into a pollinator space.

Gulf fritillary caterpillar grazing on passionvine.
Gulf fritillary caterpillar grazing on passionflower, seen here on a beautyberry bush, at the Cherokee Lake Pollinator Garden in Thomasville, Georgia. This was during the 2019 Great Georgia Pollinator Count. I had also seen this plant pairing on the Miccosukee Greenway and on the Overstreet Trail at Maclay Gardens.

As one of the beautyberry bushes grew nice and large, I thought about something I’d noticed in parks around town; passionvine loves to grow on beautyberry. The shrub makes a good trellis for Muscadine grapes, too. Here, finally, was my chance to plant passionvine, and see some new caterpillars in the yard.

I planted vines on opposite sides of the large beautyberry. The vines grabbed it, and after a few months, met each other at its top. Then the fun began.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas is a senior producer for television at WFSU Public Media, covering outdoors and ecology. After years of producing the music program OutLoud, Rob found himself in a salt marsh with a camera, and found a new professional calling as well. That project, the National Science Foundation funded "In the Grass, On the Reef," spawned the award-winning WFSU Ecology Blog. Now in its tenth year, the Ecology Blog recently wrapped its most ambitious endeavor, the EcoCitizen Project.

Rob is married with two young sons, who make a pretty fantastic adventure squad.