Costa-Rican Butterfly Vine – Dalechampia dioscoreifolia

05 Dec

Today we’re at the wet tropical section of the Conservatory. We’ll go straight at the entrance path and see a climbing vine with soft heart-shaped leaves. When it’s not in bloom it is not very impressive and can easily be overlooked. But when it is flowering – one simply cannot ignore it. Along the long vines you can see inflorescences shaped like a large purple butterflies. This vine’s name is Dalechampia dioscoreifolia. The unique inflorescences gave it some of its English common names, such as Costa-Rican Butterfly Vine, Bowtie Vine and Purple Wings.

In nature, Costa-Rican Butterfly Vine grows in the tropical zone of the Americas – in rainforests from Southern Mexico in North-America to Northern Bolivia in South-America. The rainforest is a wonderful and rich place where the plants grow densely and the trees are tall. The sub-forest is very dark, so in order to reach the light – plants must climb up or grow as epiphyte on trees. The Costa-Rican Butterfly vine is climbing the trees around it and the vines can reach even 60 m long in order to reach the desired sun. As this plant originates in the Tropical area, where seasons are less apparent, it blooms throughout the year. In the Conservatory we’re trying to give it heat and moisture conditions as close to its natural living conditions.

The inflorescence has a special structure that is typical to the Spurge plant family (Euphorbiaceae). The purple petals are actually bracts, leaves that cover the actual flowers in the center. The flowers themselves are unisexual (i.e., there are separate male and female flowers), and they bloom next to each other in a structure called a Cyathia.

In the picture you can see the pistillate (female) flower, which is the dark-colored ball on the left side with the stigmas growing from it. Surrounding it in a semicircle are the red staminate (male) flowers. This is an example for conserving energy: instead of having several big flowers, each one with petals to attract pollinating insects, the Dalechampia is grouping the flowers together and wrapping them in two big petal-like colorful bracts. They will attract the pollinators to the inflorescence.

Dalechampia is named after Jacques Daléchamps, a French physician and botanist from the 16th century. The species epithet, dioscoreifolia, is due to the leaves that are similar to Dioscorea leaves – the Yam that is eaten in the Far East.

The Tropical Conservatory is open for your pleasure – and you are welcome to visit it daily, between 9:00-15:30. In the Conservatory we display heat-loving plants, such that will not survive the chilly Jerusalem winter. The Conservatory is divided to two sections: The tropical section, where you can find thermophilic plants from wet regions and the desert section, where you can find thermophilic plants from arid regions.

Written By: Yael Orgad, December 2019.

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