By Peggy Whetzel
Growing wild in my yard is a native vine that’s never offered for sale, Cynanchum laeve, commonly called honeyvine, probably for the elongated, heart-shaped leaves. It’s also called vining milkweed or sand vine. By now, if you have it in your yard, chances are this weedy-looking perennial is climbing over your favorite flowers. Of course, your impulse is to yank it out.
But please, do it carefully. Monarch eggs or caterpillars may be attached.
In my yard, honeyvine has proven itself to be the host plant preferred by monarch butterflies over any of the milkweeds (Asclepiadaceae) I cultivate, including swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, tropical milkweed, and common milkweed.
In April or early May this year, I spotted a honeyvine sprouting annoyingly in my brick driveway. I yanked it. Then I remembered to check for an egg, and sure enough, there was one. So I put the vine in a glass of water in the windowsill. After a few days, I spotted a tiny striped caterpillar nibbling away. About two weeks later, I released the beautiful butterfly it had become.
If I kept every honeyvine that sprouts, my garden would disappear.
But do keep a few growing somewhere in your yard through the month of October. And when you remove or trim vines growing in inconvenient places, do so gently, checking for chrysalises, caterpillars and eggs. Luckily, the whitish-to-yellow monarch eggs tend to be laid, one per leaf, on the backs of leaves or stems near the vine’s tender tip. To spot young caterpillars, check leaves and stems that have been eaten.
If you find any butterflies-to-be, put the cut vine in a jar of water, and set it in the shade in direct contact with a honeyvine that is still growing. Nature should do the rest. Or, take it in and raise it. The Family Butterfly Book by Rick Mikula is very helpful. If you find a chrysalis, always keep it or tie it up in the shade so the pupa will not dehydrate.
As a bonus for allowing honeyvine to grow in your yard, bees and other pollinators enjoy the vine’s clusters of milkweed-like, greenish-pink-white flowers.