Plant This: Butterfly vine

Butterfly vine, also known as gallinita (Mascagnia macroptera), brightens up the midsummer garden with lemon-yellow flowers whose petals look as if they were cut out with pinking shears. Flowering best in full sun, this Mexican native is a wonderful addition to the drought-tolerant garden, able to hold its own when the Death Star sets its beam on high during the summer.

Narrow evergreen leaves keep trellises and fences “greened up” in winter. Although a really hard freeze (into the lower 20s or teens) can burn its leaves or kill it to the ground, during most winters it sails through with no damage in Austin’s zone 8b. This is a vigorous climber but safe for wood fences since it climbs by twining. I help it clamber up a wooden fence by stringing thin wires vertically or in a fan shape between eyehooks screwed into the wood.

In late summer, lime-green seedheads appear that resemble papery butterflies flitting among the vine. By fall, the “butterflies” turn brown, but they continue to charm small children, as well as this gardener. Perhaps they would charm you too?

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

15 Responses

  1. Ruth says:

    Those seed pods are beautiful!

    They really are, Ruth. I enjoy them as much as the flowers. —Pam

  2. Bernieh says:

    It’s an amazing plant. Those lime-green seedpods are just wonderful.

    I bet this would do well for you in Australia, don’t you think, Bernieh? —Pam

  3. Jason says:

    Ah, if only I didn’t live in zone 5.

    Just revel in all the temperate-zone plants that we hot-zone gardeners can’t grow, Jason. There are many that I’d love to have! :-) —Pam

  4. Caroline says:

    Gorgeous blossoms and I adore those seedheads! This vine would work really well on the sunny half of my back fence. I have big plans for that spot, once I clear the brush and invasive English ivy off it.

    It would brighten up your sunny fence, Caroline. You need one! —Pam

  5. The seedpods are quite interesting. I have never heard of this vine. I imagine it may not survive 7b/8a climates. Could be our humidity is too much as well.

    I think the humidity would not be a problem (it’s very humid in Austin all summer), but the cold would probably get it in zone 7b. —Pam

  6. Shirley says:

    I planted the butterfly vine last year in a hot, sunny part of the yard where it has been quite happy this summer. It bloomed for the first time a few weeks ago, can’t wait for those first gorgeous seed pods. I didn’t realize that it will stay green through all but the coldest winters so that’s good to know.

    You’ll love it, Shirley. It’s a summer lover, and in San Antonio you’re usually a bit warmer in winter than Austin, so probably won’t have to worry about any burn back. —Pam

  7. Love the “butterfly” seedheads. They kind of look like double ginko leaves :-) Some winters would probably be a bit too cold in the DFW area for it, though.

    That’s probably so, Toni. You might try it on a protected or south-facing wall though. —Pam

  8. This looks like a good one to try. I’ve heard it’s deer resistant, too.
    That may or may not work here. I need something to replace the crossvine that the deer keep eating. Yep…that’s supposed to be deer resistant, too.
    Worth the try, though.

    Those pesky deer! They haven’t nibbled on mine, but my deer problem isn’t nearly as bad as yours, so who knows. I hope you’ll give a report when you try it. —Pam

  9. Hi Pam :) I love this vine too. I have two of them I planted last fall and I have not watered them once – not once in 2012! Outside of rain they are on their own and thrive.. I hope this winter does not freeze too hard again because I can hardly wait to see how tall they are going to get this next year.

    Impressive for a new plant! That’s great to know, Heather. Mine is in a little-watered section of my garden, and it never shows any stress. Gotta love it. —Pam

  10. This plant should be on the “really love and want it if you plant it” list. I planted one little vine in my gardens at my last home and it sprang up every where, choking my orange Satsuma trees and other perennials. Just beware!! :)

    It can be, ahem, rather vigorous, it’s true. I haven’t had any seedlings from mine, however. Yours sounds like passionflower vine in its fecundity! —Pam

  11. Robert says:

    Just an added note, this vine IS beautiful! Wouldn’t live without it nor my senecio confusus, but I must say it is covered in fine hairs which I personally find to be quite irritating. If I stayed away from it it wouldn’t be a problem, but how can you when it’s so interesting?! So y’all know, there is also a lilac colored variety mascagnia lilacina. It isn’t as vigorous, but just as magnificent. I’m in zone 9b in south Tx.

    You’re full of interesting information, Robert. I did not know about either the fine hairs or the lilac Mascagnia. The latter sounds lovely! The former—not so much. —Pam

  12. Nifty plant! I think if I had a little more sun I would plant it–I love the fan shape!

    It’s a beauty, but there are only so many plants we can cram into our sunniest spaces, right? ;-) —Pam

  13. Julia says:

    I planted one of these this summer to climb up to our super sunny patio rooftop. Unfortunately, I think it’s too shaded at the ground where it’s planted so it’s not the happiest. It also had a bad case of mealybug invasion which I’ve been able to control with water blasts and picking off by hand – ick! Hopefully, it’ll have a better Fall :)

    I hope so too, Julia. It’s so pretty when it really takes off. —Pam

  14. Craig says:

    Picked up two potted vines Thankgiving of 2011 in Pensacola FL. They did go dormant (only remnants of vines ) until Spring of 2912. Potted them together in 8 gal container and gave them a 6′ trellis. By mid summer total recovery and vibrant growth. Only disappointment was only “one” butterfly! What can I do? Can I take clippings ? Where can I order or buy more plants?

    Living in Coastal North Carolina – zone 6?

    I’m not sure, Craig, but possibly you didn’t have a long enough growing season for them to set seed? It’s said to be hardy only to zone 8, so it surprises me that it came back at all in zone 6. San Marcos Growers says, “If frozen to the ground in such cold locations as USDA Zone 8 it will often resprout from the base but late frosts delay flowering.” Delayed flowering would mean delayed or non-existent seed-setting. —Pam

  15. steve white says:

    Should a butterfly vine be trimmed back every year?

    I don’t do anything to mine here in Austin, Steve. The beauty of an evergreen vine, after all, is the year-round foliage. I only trim the vine if it gets unruly near the gate. —Pam