|Smoking in a Tavern: David Teniers the Younger
|Self Portrait - Gerrit Dou
The big-leaved pipevine was commonly planted in North America a century or two ago, to shade a porch or verandah and give partial privacy. The large green leaves grow exuberantly and the peculiar fly-pollinated flowers provide sculptural interest. The leaves drop in the fall, allowing winter light to reach the porch.
But it’s not for its fly pollinators that I recommend this native vine to gardeners. Instead, its third merit to me is the fact that its leaves are the sole food the caterpillars of the beautiful Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, will eat.
|Battus philenor. John Abbott, 1797
Around the world there are many swallowtail species whose caterpillars eat pipevine plants, and share the unpalatability to birds, but the Pipevine swallowtail is our only member of the group. But although it is relatively rare, you will see other swallowtails and unrelated butterfly species that mimic the Pipevine swallowtail. This is an example of what is called Batesian mimicry, where the mimic species gets the benefit (avoiding being eaten by birds) without the cost (methods to handle and store the toxic compounds). The Viceroy butterfly is a Batesian mimic of the Monarch, and the Spicebush swallowtail is a mimic of the Pipevine.
So, from pipes to spice we go!
|Spicebush swallowtail - Benny Mazur, CC by SA 2.0
partial tree shade but blooms more abundantly early in spring if it gets some sunlight. The dainty yellow-green flowers don’t make a huge show but are pleasant when winter is ending. This native Carolinian forest shrub should be used more in our parks and ravines, so we can enjoy the Spicebush swallowtails that will come to it.
I’m writing this during the winter holiday, when of course spiced wine has been popular since the time of the Romans. So I can’t resist a spicy diversion. In 1,390 a mediaeval cookbook (by "the chief Master Cooks of King Richard II") gave this recipe for Ypocras: “Pur fait Ypocras …grinding together cinnamon, ginger, galangal, cloves, long pepper, nutmeg, marjoram, cardamom, and grains of paradise ("spykenard de Spayn", rosemary may be substituted). This is mixed with red wine and sugar”. I have read of this drink as “hippocras” - after steeping the spices in the sweetened wine for a day, the spices are strained out through a conical cloth filter bag called a manicum hippocraticum or Hippocratic sleeve (originally devised by the 5th century BC Greek physician Hippocrates to filter water).
|"...we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon,
over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!"
But what are we to do if we want native tastes in our holiday drinks? If you are lucky enough to have a male and female spicebush plant, the berries from the female can be used as spice. If you don’t have berries, the twigs and leaves can be steeped to make a tea. When my bush is bigger, I shall make this and call it “swallowtail tea”!
|Hildegarde v. Bingen,
by W. Marshall
|Giant Swallowtail near Ottawa - Gordon Robertson
I’ve taken us from pipes to spice to hops, with some deviations on the way. But what about paws? Admittedly, I am dreaming about getting a puppy in the new year, but here I’m thinking of the delicious and underused native Carolinian fruit tree, the Pawpaw or Asimina triloba. Pawpaw is now being grown in Toronto by connoisseurs who value the wonderful fruit. It fits into this article because of the beautiful native Zebra swallowtail butterfly, whose caterpillars eat only pawpaw leaves.
|Pawpaw flower - Krzystof Ziarnek CC-by-SA 4.0
I first saw these lovelies during my two year exile in Virginia. The Palace of Neurons where I worked had large grounds running down to the Potomac River. In the moister soil near the river, Pawpaws grew in abundance as an understory tree. That’s plant geek for “grows OK mostly in the shade of big trees”. Pawpaw trees are very rare in Carolinian Canada, but we know our indigenous peoples used the fruit, because there are little-known groves of pawpaw trees next to some of the canoe trade routes inland from Lake Erie. In the spring, male Zebras patrolled streams leading to the Potomac Pawpaw groves, looking for newly emerged females. In summer, second brood adults perched on blue pickerelweed flowers (Pontederia) in the
|Zebra Swallowtail - Clement Kent, CC by SA 3.0
Given the delicious fruit and the spectacular butterfly, we definitely needs more “paws” in the ravines running down to High Park and in partly shaded places in our gardens.
There are two gardening notes to the pawpaw, though. It needs to be cross-pollinated so two genetically different trees should be planted within half a block or less of each other. And, it suckers from root runners. My trees do this but I find pruning the suckers at ground level once or twice a year controls them nicely. For a very nice dive into pawpaws, go here.
So, Dear Reader, that’s my tale: of Hops and Spice, Pipes and Paws.
p.s. if you missed the previous post on Project Swallowtail, please give it a look. Project Swallowtail will be increasing the host plants above in order to have more of these beautiful butterflies.