Passionflowers

Today Donald Trump, Jr. confirmed that he hoped to collude with the Russian government to help elect his father president in 2016. In my garden, the zebra longwing butterflies didn’t care about the crumbling of our democratic institutions and the despicable kakistocracy attempting to rule this country. They should care, of course—environmental catastrophe is part of the Republican party’s agenda. Almost as soon as the Don, Jr. news broke this morning, the picture of him holding the severed tail of an elephant and a knife began to circulate again on social media; the equally notorious, because laughable, image of him sitting on a stump staring wistfully into the middle distance was given a new caption on Twitter: tree-son. Corruption is embodied in the pathetic spectacle of the unnatural killer of charismatic megafauna (pathetic too because the rumor is he didn’t actually kill the poor beast himself). But I want to talk about butterflies.

Yellow and black zebra longwing butterflies (Heliconius charithonia) are abundant in our garden, their airy swoop and glide making a momentary mockery of the dystopian world we live in and the worse one to come. It wasn’t always so, and some of their recovery here is just accidental, but the spectacular—I might even say charismatic—growth of a nectar-rich native firebush plant I bought from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden a few years ago (a subject for a future post) and the planting of three different kinds of passionflower, larval host of the zebra longwing, make our yard a little haven for now. Here a Heliconius caterpillar munches at twilight on a sadly denuded corky-stemmed passionflower (Passiflora suberosa):

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Here a new stem of a maypop (Passiflora incarnata) grows up and around the thicker main stem of an older maypop which has flourished in and through the branches of the venerable silver buttonwood tree in our backyard (decades old, maybe planted when the house was built in the mid-1920s).

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And here is my pride and joy, the straggly, weedy, endangered pineland passionflower (Passiflora pallens), an indigenous echo of the pine rockland forest that used to occupy this very land (the Miami rock ridge, south of the Miami River), purchased at a Fairchild plant sale four years ago, and unstoppable since despite miminal care. New volunteers keep popping up: this one has grown and been hacked back and grown again several times on the wall and the mesh insect screens of our family room. It just belongs. It wants to reclaim this land, even our house itself. Don Jr wouldn’t stand a chance, his knife and his stupid malevolence notwithstanding.

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