Gulf Fritillary and Passion Flower Vine

Butterfly migration is even more amazing than bird migration.  Bird migration includes the same generation, but butterflies that begin migrating north never live long enough to return south.  Instead, butterflies gradually expand their range north as the weather warms; breeding, laying eggs, and dying.  The next generation advances farther north.  Then, several generations later, they begin moving south, retreating before killing frosts.  The gulf fritillary (Augraulis valinae) is an example of a migratory butterfly.  They winter in Florida, south Texas, and Mexico, but generations of them migrate as far north as Pennsylvania.  Gulf fritillaries were named because they are some times seen fluttering over the Gulf of Mexico.  Their larva feed upon passion flower vine (Passiflora incarnata) foliage.  The adults obtain their energy from nectar in flowers , and as the below photo represents, they often find some nutrition in animal feces.  Gulf fritillaries are particularly fond of lantana, a non-native shrub that rapidly colonized Florida during early Spanish occupation.

Gulf fritillary snacking on dog feces.

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Passion flower.  Spanish conquistadors thought it symbolized the passion of Christ.

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The fruit of passion flower is edible.  The seeds are covered in a gelatinous substance with a sweet-sour flavor and a tropical aroma.  Brazil produces and consumes the most passion fruit.  Imported passion fruit is occasionally available in the grocery store.

There are between 520-700 species of passion flower vine–taxonomists disagree about the number of species.  96% of them occur in the Americas, indicating this is where they originated.  Other species live in southeast Asia, Australia, and Pacific islands.  They probably colonized these regions by rafting on clumps of debris ripped from the land by  tropical storms.  P. incarnata and the crinkled passion flower (P. gracilis) are the only species that evolved to live in temperate climates.  P. gracilis  is restricted to 1 county in South Carolina, while P. incarnata ranges throughout eastern North America.  During the Miocene when most of North America was sub-tropical there were probably many species of passion flower native to North America, but just 2 evolved the ability to survive frosty seasons.

Passion flower vines are shade intolerant but drought tolerant.  They prefer disturbed areas, and I’ve found them growing on vacant lots in my neighborhood.  This species was well adapted to live during the Pleistocene when rapid climate change and megafauna foraging often drastically altered local landscapes.  Mammoths and other large animals girdled and uprooted trees, opening up the canopy so shade intolerant passion flower vines could thrive.  Many vertebrates, perhaps peccaries, fed on the fruit and distributed the still viable seeds in their dung.  Long Ice Age droughts also killed trees and let passion flower vine spread in the available sunshine, climbing over grass and tree saplings and across bare sandy soils.

When the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Americas, they found passion flower vine growing everywhere.  The soldiers were super religious, though they ignored 1 of the 10 commandments when they were butchering the Indians.  They thought passion flowers symbolized the crucifixion of Christ, known as the passion by religious zealots.  Supposedly, the 5 petals and 5 sepals represent the 10 apostles.  The 72 filaments = the number of thorns in Jesus’s crown.  The 3 stigmas = the cross.  The 3 stamens = the wounds in Jesus’s hands.  The leaf lobes resemble the spear wounds.  The dark spots under the leaves represent the 33 pieces of silver given to Judas to betray Jesus.  The flowers die after just 1 day, just like Jesus died after a day on the cross.  And the petals reclose like the tomb enclosed Jesus.  Some superstitious priest sure had an overactive imagination.


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5 Responses to “Gulf Fritillary and Passion Flower Vine”

  1. m Says:

    I was surprised to see this and that there was such a thing

    Effort to help monarch butterflies gets boost in marketplace
    Published August 21, 2018 – 3:00pm
    Last Updated August 21, 2018 – 6:30pm

    MONTREAL — An initiative to market milkweed for the benefit of monarch butterflies — and the farmers in Quebec and Vermont who grow it — is getting a boost from a Canadian parka company that is renewing its commitment to sell coats made with the plant’s floss.

    It’s an experimental manufacturing and retailing effort, which started in 2016 when Quartz Co. made and sold a few hundred coats with milkweed fiber as the insulation. After modest growth of its distribution last year, the company is introducing its third generation in September and additional styles in October.

    Having served as a testing ground, said Francois-Xavier Robert, Quartz Co.’s chief operating officer, “We feel like we are close to having a major product.”

    North America’s severely depleted population of monarchs depends for its survival on milkweed, the sole host for the eggs and only food for the caterpillars. Efforts to restore monarchs rest in part on establishing new lands for the plant to grow. Research indicates plots of milkweed in farmers’ fields are particularly attractive to the monarchs, perhaps more so than roadside stretches and urban patches that butterflies may or may not find.

    Quebec researchers developed a way to transform fiber from the long-undesired weed into a lightweight insulation that can replace down and synthetics. But the effort has been bumpy, with the initial producer of the fiber collapsing last year. Harvesting and production technology is immature; hand-picking the crop is often required to yield the silky fibers needed for high-end clothing. Farmers harvest milkweed in the fall after the migrating monarchs have had their fill and moved south.

    More than 100 farmers in Quebec and a half dozen in Vermont are growing milkweed for the Monark co-operative, tapping Quartz Co. as their only market for the clothing insulation. Parkas from Quartz, based outside Montreal, are sold in more than 275 stores in 20 countries as well as online.

    Robert and his brother, Jean-Philippe Robert, the Quartz president, are entrepreneurs in their early 30s who bought the company in 2015 and built a leadership team of their own generation.

    “When we heard about milkweed we jumped on it,” said Francois-Xavier Robert. “It’s part of our generation to be a bit more eco-friendly and responsible. The project seemed pretty aligned with our values.”

  2. markgelbart Says:

    Thanks for the article.

  3. edgewood Says:

    There’s another Passionflower that’s widespread in the southeastern USA, almost the same range as Passiflora incarnata – Passiflora lutea, the small yellow passionflower. Both species are fairly widespread in the southern half of Illinois, P. incarnata can be grown farther north, too, and will produce fruit even in the southern parts of the Chicago suburbs. Unlike P. incarnata, P. lutea is perennial vine of dry woods, and will flower and fruit (edible!) under a closed canopy, but will respond positively to an understory fire.
    Years ago, collected cuttings from P. incarnata for propagation, and unintentionally collected eggs of gulf fritillary. Lost most of the cuttings (to herbivory) but raised a bunch of attractive butterflies. Both native passion-flowers are fairly easy to raise from cuttings or seed.

    Thanks for an informative and interesting website – always look forward to reading it!

  4. Autumn Butterflies | GeorgiaBeforePeople Says:

    […] my neighborhood. I already wrote about gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanilae) a few years ago. (See: ) Giant sulphurs (Phoebis sennae) are big yellow butterflies easy to identify. In their larval […]

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