The yellow butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera) is the 2019 Texas Superstar selection. This designation is reserved for beautiful plants that have passed rigid statewide testing and are found to be relatively disease-free, easy to propagate and grow well all over Texas.

Background in name

The yellow butterfly vine was first identified by Joseph Banks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1768. It grows profusely in Mexico and the southern United States. Sometimes, it is called butterfly pea vine, yellow orchid vine or gallinita.

An intriguing plant, its clusters of dainty, yellow flowers shine in the sun. However, the vine gets its name from its chartreuse seed pods that open and look like butterfly wings.

These papery pods turn from tan to brown as they mature. The brown pod seeds can be harvested and planted.

Description

Yellow butterfly vines typically grow 10 to 20 feet in height and width. Its bright yellow flowers will bloom from spring to frost. The orchid-like flower has five yellow petals and may be one-inch in diameter. Basically, it can be described as a flowering, evergreen vine.

Growing characteristics

In the Victoria area, the yellow butterfly vine foliage will stay glossy green during our mild winters. If we have a very cold winter, it will die and grow back after the last frost.

In the spring, it can be pruned and trained to climb on trellises, walls or strong fences. If left unsupported, this plant will twine itself into a mounding shrub or even a thick groundcover. If planted near a wall or in a container, it will climb and spill over the top.

  • Attributes

Victoria County Master Gardener Karla Davis recommends planting the yellow butterfly vine in a sunny area that is a bit isolated. She said it grows so fast that it can be overwhelming. At the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens, Karla regularly trims it to keep it neat.

Another attribute is the plant’s incredible heat tolerance. The yellow butterfly vine can be planted along west-acing walls and places that receive a lot of summer sun. Its dense foliage makes it a good choice for a privacy wall.

  • Propagation

This vine can be propagated from layering, semi-soft-wood cuttings or seeds. Layering is the easiest way to start new vines. Place a vine on the ground, cover it with soil and regularly water it.

Soft-wood cuttings can be planted in 4-inch containers to root. They will be ready to transplant in 11 or 12 weeks. From this small container, transfer the plant to a 1-gallon container so its roots can develop. In two weeks, the vine should be hardy enough for the garden.

Propagation from seeds can be more challenging. Some seeds are not viable. Viability can be checked by rolling the seed between your fingers. If the seed crumbles, discard it. A good seed will keep its shape. Due to the erratic germination of seeds, it is not the recommended propagation method.

  • Planting

While the vine prefers rich, well-draining soils, it adapts to both acidic and alkaline ones. Plant the yellow butterfly vine in full sun to light shade. It can be planted in spring or summer from container plants. If grown in a container, make sure the pot is at least 20 inches in diameter and has a pole or trellis-like support to keep it upright.

  • Watering

Water newly planted vines until they are well established. While it is drought-tolerant, the yellow butterfly vine does look better with regular watering during dry spells.

  • Fertilizing

Every spring, apply a slow-release 3-1-2 fertilizer to the vine. This application improves its flowering and growth. It will require little care other than pruning to shape or contain it.

Miscellaneous notes

The yellow butterfly vine is a vigorous, attractive, low-maintenance and pest-resistant plant.

  • Attracts butterflies; resists deer

While butterflies are attracted to it, the deer find it unpalatable.

  • Artistic inspiration

Young and old artists are known to paint the brown pods for ornaments. One woman in San Antonio grows the yellow butterfly vines, collects the brown seed pods and paints one of 15 different butterflies on each seed pod.

  • Not to be confused with yellow butterfly bush

Do not mistake the yellow butterfly vine with the yellow butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii). While beautiful and attractive for their nectar, butterfly bushes can crowd out beneficial native plants that feed butterflies and birds in your neighborhood.

The yellow butterfly vine is a beautiful, easy-care plant that is adaptable as a shrub, living wall or patio plant that attracts butterflies and whose dried papery brown seed pods resemble butterflies, from which it gets its name. No wonder it was selected as the 2019 Texas Superstar.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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