Information About Butterfly Pea

Information About Butterfly Pea

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What Is A Butterfly Pea Plant: Tips On Planting Butterfly Pea Flowers

By Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Butterfly pea is a trailing vine that produces pinkish-blue or violet blooms in spring and summer. As the name suggests, butterfly pea flowers are favored by butterflies, but birds and bees love them, too. Learn how to grow the vines in this article.

Clitoria ternatea

Clitoria ternatea, commonly known as Asian pigeonwings, [1] bluebellvine, blue pea, butterfly pea, cordofan pea and Darwin pea, [2] is a plant species belonging to the family Fabaceae.

In India, it is revered as a holy flower, used in daily puja rituals. The flowers of this vine were imagined to have the shape of human female genitals, hence the Latin name of the genus "Clitoria", from "clitoris". The species name is thought to derive from the island of Ternate in the Indonesian archipelago, from where Linnaeus's specimens originated. [3]

Yellow Butterfly Vine

Occasionally gardeners come across intriguing plants in unexpected ways. Such was the case with my first encounter with yellow butterfly vine. Clusters of yellow, orchid-like flowers about an inch in diameter shared space with chartreuse, butterfly-shaped seedpods attached to an attractive green vine. That was enough for me to purchase the plant and learn more about it.

The vine that attracted my attention is Callaeum macropterum syn. Mascagnia macroptera. Hailing from Baja, California and Mexico, this plant is also sometimes called butterfly pea vine, yellow orchid vine, or gallinita. The seller of the vine knew how to attract the attention of a person who frequently works with children in junior gardener programs. She had constructed several grapevine wreaths and decorated them with painted seedpods. "What fun a fun project for my junior gardeners!" I thought.

I bought a couple of the vines and brought them home. Other pursuits have kept me away from the garden for most of the summer, so they remain in their gallon containers growing happily up an improvised support. Nonetheless, they have bloomed all summer. Having waited this long, I will most likely place them in the greenhouse to overwinter. Next spring I will plant them out and expect them to be well enough established to endure my zone 8b winter. Although the tops may be frozen, I will expect them to grow back from the roots when warm weather returns.

Evergreen scrambling, trailing, or climbing depending on whether or not a support is offered, the butterfly vine grows 10 to 15 feet tall and is attractive from spring through fall. Generally a heavy bloom is produced in the spring and a lighter one in the fall. However, the chartreuse butterflies that gradually turn tan and then dry to an attractive dark brown decorate the vine throughout the season.

Evergreen in areas with mild winters, this frost sensitive vine dies back to the ground in Zones 8 but resprouts from the roots in spring. North of Zone 7 hardiness is dicey, but that does not preclude it from being grown as an annual vine farther north. Quick growth and early bloom will still provide a summer's worth of color and a good crop of "butterflies." Plants are generally hardy as long as temperatures do not drop below 20 to 25°F.

Train this easy-to-grow vine up a trellis, fence, arbor, mailbox, light post, or other support. Unsupported, the plant is a scrambling or trailing vine that will spill from a container or grow into a loosely mounding shrub with a bit of judicious pruning. If left to its own devices, it will make a loose, spreading groundcover.

Water newly planted vines regularly until well established. After that time little care will be required by this drought-tolerant plant. Heat tolerance is outstanding, allowing it to flourish in sunny, western exposures with reflected heat during the summer or growing up a mailbox between the pavement and sidewalk in unrelenting sun. Full sun and rich soil are preferred, but a decent performance can be expected in partial shade and almost any soil as long as it is well drained.

Layering is the easiest way to start new vines. Simply place a vine on the ground and cover it with soil. Cuttings also root readily. Propagation by seeds is a bit more challenging. Some seeds seem not to be viable, and the papery pods rot if soil is too wet. The seed is contained in the butterfly "body." Viability can be checked by rolling it between your fingers. An old seed will crumble, but a good seed will not. Germination is erratic, and seedlings may appear over a wide range of time with some appearing in as little as a week and others taking a month or more.


While few gardeners have reported problems with the yellow butterfly vine, some report that it is aggressive in certain conditions. One reader of Dave's Garden reported that it had spread into a nearby woodland and covered shrubs and other plants. Another source reports that it must be pruned regularly to keep it in bounds.

Nevertheless, yellow butterfly vine is vigorous, pest resistant, unpalatable to deer, and attractive. I am excited with the idea of "butterflies" that stay green if harvested while still young or turn brown if left on the vine. I believe that my junior gardeners will have a plethora of butterflies to paint and use in various craft projects next summer and fall. What fun we'll have!

Provide Nectar Sources From Early Spring to Late Fall

The key to attracting butterflies is nectar and lots of it. Butterflies that overwinter as adults need nectar sources early in the season, and fall migrants, like monarchs, need plenty of nectar to fuel their long journeys south. It's easy to provide nectar in the summer when most flowers are in bloom, but does your backyard offer nectar sources in March, or October?

Try growing some nectar plants, many of which bloom late in the season. And while butterfly bush does bloom for a long time and attract a lot of butterflies, keep in mind that it's an exotic, invasive plant that should probably be avoided.

The Magical Flowers of Butterfly Pea Plants

In August 2017, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was beautiful and I took many photos. As always the plants that stayed with me were the ones I had not seen before. I remember vines with beautiful pea-like flowers, about 2 inches wide, wrapped around dead trees, which were painted (“art”). The flowers were blue/purple with a yellow inner strip and the green leaves reminded me of Kentucky coffee trees. Obviously it was a tropical vine in the legume family (Fabaceae) but I could not find a sign. Later when I got home, I stumbled across the same plant on Facebook only with cobalt blue flowers. Its name, I learned, was butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea).

The Facebook post said the flowers were used for an herbal tea. I had no idea this pretty vine had herbal qualities. I researched online and discovered that the cobalt blue variety is well-known in Asian countries. The flowers are dried and sold in bags but one can purchase a powdered form or an extract. The flowers can be brewed alone or combined with other herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, and mint. The blue comes from anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds, similar to blueberries.

When brewed with water the tea is cobalt blue. However, when an acid is added, such as lemon juice, the tea turns purple. When an alkaline liquid such as roselle tea is added, the tea turns red. Apparently butterfly pea tea acts like a litmus strip, the color of the drink changes with the pH of what it is mixed with. This does not affect the taste but has transformed butterfly tea into a novelty cocktail drink. The cobalt blue flowers also are used to dye food such as custards, puddings, rice dishes, and sticky rice.

Butterfly pea is native to Africa. Here in Virginia it would be grown as an annual. The vine grows rapidly in the summer and needs support so an arbor is ideal but would be interesting to try it in a hanging basket. As a member of the pea family, the plant fixates nitrogen and is good for the soil. The vine can take full sun to light shade and is drought tolerant. There are several varieties, some have cobalt blue, lavender, or white flowers in single or double flowered forms.

This is not an easy plant to find here in Virginia but it seems that once you have the plant, you can let some flowers go to seed and collect the pods for next year. Last week I was in Florida and toured a friend’s garden. He was growing this plant in a large container with a trellis. I was so excited to see the butterfly pea again and explained how I was interested in growing it. He had a plastic bag full of the seed pods and offered me some. I took a handful of pods which by now had dried and split open and brought them home. This week, I plan to sow the seeds outside and grow butterfly pea plants in order to experiment with novelty drinks!

Best Butterfly Plants for Central Texas

Providing nectar sources for butterflies is important due to habitat loss and increased use of pesticides in crop fields. You can do your part to provide sanctuary for these insects — and save water while doing so.

Are you looking to improve your landscape for wildlife but don’t know the first thing about butterfly gardening?

Providing nectar sources for butterflies is very important due to habitat loss and increased use of pesticides in crop fields. Do your part to provide sanctuary for these insects and save water while doing so.

When planning a butterfly garden, keep these things in mind.

  • A caterpillar hatches from an egg and eats very specific vegetation before it forms a chrysalis and emerges as a butterfly. This mature butterfly can now consume nectar from many different kinds of flowers. For example, the female monarch butterfly lays her eggs only on plant species of the genus, Asclepias, more commonly known as milkweed. Once the eggs hatch, the ravenous caterpillars eat the leaves and flowers of the milkweed. After the monarch caterpillar emerges from its chrysalis, it seeks out nectar from less specific flower sources.

  • In the instance of the monarch butterfly species, the Asclepias plant is considered its larval host plant. Every species of butterfly has one or more plant species that they utilize for egg laying, knowing that these plants will provide the right food for the caterpillars. As a butterfly gardener you must be comfortable with caterpillars consuming not only the nectar of the flowers, but the vegetation as well. And don’t worry, the foliage will grow back!
  • Any and all pesticides should be avoided if you want a successful butterfly garden. Pesticides are designed to kill insects and are usually non-selective when doing so.
  • Provide flat stones in sunny locations for butterflies to warm their wings on as they are cold-blooded and have no other mechanism for creating heat.
  • Provide shallow water sources, such as pie pans filled with gravel, that are easily accessible for butterflies. Deep ponds are not ideal.
  • In order for your garden to attract butterflies from spring to fall, be sure to include spring, summer and fall-blooming plant species.
  • Butterflies native to our region have long coexisted with the native vegetation of the central Texas landscape. Focus on planting native vegetation in your butterfly garden.

  • Ask your nursery if the plants you are buying have been treated with systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids. Systemic pesticides remain within the tissue of plants for long periods of time and can harm insects well after application. Support nurseries that do not use these chemicals.
  • Wildlife is attracted to diverse gardens. Use plants of different heights, textures and colors when planning a butterfly garden.

Plant some of these native and drought-tolerant species to attract butterflies all season long! This is only a partial list — there are many others to choose from. Many of these are larval host plants as well as nectar sources.


Rosinweeds – Silphium albiflorum , S. radula , S. laciniatum
Prairie clovers – Dalea purpurea , D. aurea , D. candida
Black dalea – Dalea frutescens
Missouri primrose– Oenothera macrocarpa
Rock rose – Pavonia lasiopetala
Salvias – S. roemeriana , S. farinacea , S. penstemonoides , S. coccinea , S. texana , S. engelmannia
Lindheimer’s senna – Senna lindheimeriana
Zexmenia – Wedelia hispida
Winecups – Callirhoe involucrata
Golden crownbeard – Verbesina encelioides
Frostweed – Verbesina virginica
Skullcaps – Scutellaria wrightii , Scutellaria ovata
Frogfruit – Phyla nodiflora
Fall aster – Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
Damianita – Chrysactinia mexicana
Engelmann daisy – Engelmannia peristenia
Sundrops – Calylophus berlandieri , C. hartwegii
Gayfeather – Liatris punctata
Milkweeds – Asclepias asperula , A. tuberosa , A. viridiflora , A. oenotheroides , A. viridis
Mistflowers – Conoclinium greggii , C. coelestinum , Ageratina havanensis
Ironweeds – Vernonia lindheimeri , V. baldwinii
Blackfoot daisy – Melampodium leucanthum
Coneflowers – Echinacea angustifolia , E. purpurea



Barbados cherry – Malpighia glabra
Kidneywood – Eysenhardtia texana
Cenizo – Leucophyllum frutescens
Fragrant mimosa – Mimosa borealis
Agarita – Mahonia trifoliolata
Aromatic sumac– Rhus aromatica
Wafer ash – Ptelea trifoliata
Prickly ash – Zanthoxylum hirsutum


Evergreen sumac – Rhus virens
Mexican buckeye – Ungnadia speciosa
Prairie flameleaf sumac – Rhus lanceolata
Mexican plum – Prunus mexicana
Texas redbud – Cercis canadensis var. texensis
Rusty blackhaw viburnum – Viburnum rufidulum

Another joy of planting and maintaining a butterfly garden is that while it may be intended for butterflies, it will also invite other beneficial wildlife to your yard as well. Don’t be surprised if you encounter songbirds, hummingbirds and bees in your “butterfly” garden, too.