The Dalechampia or Costa Rican butterfly vine, is a climbing plant grown in pots and in the ground for the vigor of the long shoots and above all for the unusual beauty of the inflorescences in the shape of large pink-purple butterflies.
General characteristics of the Dalechampia
There Dalechampia dioscoreifolia is a perennial plant of the Euphorbiaceae family native to Central America and the tropical areas of northern and western South America. It grows in a rustic state in all areas with a hot – humid climate, especially in rainforests.
Also commonly known as Butterfly screw, the Dalechampia plant has climbing stems, thin and very branched which, in full vegetative vigor and in adequate humidity and temperature conditions, can reach up to 60 meters in length. As the stems age, they tend to lignify at the base and lose most of the leaves. The new branches, on the other hand, are light green herbaceous tendrils.
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The leaves young are pale green while those already formed are dark green and about 15 cm long. They have long cylindrical peduncles. The shape is heart-shaped or ovate lanceolate; the lamina is wide and wrinkled, sometimes pubescent, with a pointed apex and an entire or slightly toothed margin.
The elements that give the Dalechampia a unique and rare beauty are the inflorescences, opposite pink bracts arranged in pairs like butterfly wings. Each bract has a lanceolate shape, a wrinkled page with various fan-shaped ribs and a serrated edge.
THE flowers they are unisexual and placed in the center of the two bracts. Like those of the poinsettia they are yellow, small and insignificant.
THE fruits they are hairy and dark tricot capsules that house 3 seeds.
THE seeds they are globose, tuberculous and dark in color.
The Dalechampia in the regions with a hot-humid climate blooms from the beginning of summer until the first colds arrive. In tropical areas the plant blooms all year round.
Cultivation of Dalechampia dioscoreifolia
It is a plant that, while growing well in partial shade, prefers full sun exposure and sheltered from strong winds. It resists outdoors in areas with mild winter temperatures, reacts to short frosts by losing most of the leaves that it will throw back when the next warm season arrives.
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It is a plant that in order to grow and produce new shoots and flowers in abundance requires a cultivation soil rich in nutrients, soft, moist but without water stagnation. The suitable soil is the universal one mixed with draining material.
The Dalechampia does not tolerate dry soil therefore it should be watered regularly especially during drought periods and especially in summer, however, avoiding excesses and above all water stagnation. In winter, water supplies must be reduced and applied when the soil tends to dry out.
Throughout the vegetative cycle, from March to October, the soil must be enriched with nutrients with fortnightly administration of a specific liquid fertilizer for flowering green plants, diluted in the watering water according to the doses indicated on the manufacturer’s package.
Dalechampia: cultivation in pots
It is a plant characterized by slow growth that can be grown in pots on the balcony during the summer months and in an apartment or greenhouse during the winter months. In an adequately sized, wide and deep pot, the plant grows well and produces many flowers if placed in a warm and sheltered place.
The Dalechampia should be repotted when the roots have occupied all the available space and come out of the drainage holes. Repotting is done in spring, generally every 2-3 years. A new container slightly larger than the previous one is used; expanded clay as a drainage material for the bottom and good universal soil.
Multiplication of the Dalechampia
New specimens of Dalechampia can be obtained by seed and by cutting.
In spring, the mature and mold-free seeds are buried at a depth of 0.5 cm in a soft, loose soil rich in organic substance, always kept humid with nebulizations of water at room temperature and not calcareous. The seedlings should be left to strengthen and only when they can be handled without difficulty do they repatch into larger pots or planted directly in the home.
Reproduction by cuttings
It is a very simple vegetative or agamic propagation technique, at no cost, which allows to obtain specimens identical to the original plant.
At the end of summer, 15-18 cm long cuttings are taken, cutting off the apical parts of young and vigorous twigs, each bearing at least 2-3 leaflets; they are buried in a mixture composed of sand and peat in equal parts, kept barely humid until rooting has taken place which is marked by the emission of new leaves.
The shoots or vines of the Costa Rican butterfly screw they have a tendency to develop in all directions in a disordered and tangled way therefore every year, after flowering or at the beginning of the vegetative restart, pruning interventions are necessary. To lighten the plant, favor the airing of the innermost parts and stimulate the regrowth of new vines, the dry branches are pruned and the branches that are too long are shortened. Adequate pruning also serves to avoid the onset of dangerous fungal diseases and mite infestations.
Parasites and diseases of Dalechampia
It is a plant sensitive to fungal diseases such as root rot and especially to parasitic infestations by aphids and spider mites. The former colonize the stems and leaf peduncles while the latter suffocate them with their thin cobwebs.
Cures and treatments
Due to its sarmentose climbing habit, the Dalechampia needs a sturdy support to allow its thin stems to climb.
The Dalechampia plant as mentioned above is sensitive to cold, especially to sudden and sudden changes in temperature and in cold regions it is therefore obligatory to hospitalize it in a bright and warm environment with a temperature of at least 10 degrees.
Pests and fungal diseases must be prevented or defeated by spraying specific products based on copper or horsetail on the foliage.
Variety of Dalechampia
There are about 115 species of Dalechampia, spread throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, although most come from the Americas.
A shrubby, evergreen variety native to Mexico. It has green leaves and in spring it produces flower without petals with pink bracts. Due to its small size it is very suitable for growing in pots.
A shrub species native to Belize, about 1.5 meters tall. It has a very developed but not very branched main stem. The leaves are green and long petiolate. They have a spatulate shape, a sharp apex and an entire or serrated edge. During the flowering period, summer-autumn, it produces axillary inflorescences composed of pink bracts and white or green flowers.
Dalechampia plants are appreciated as ornamental for covering walls, pergolas, railings and other types of support. Potted it is ideal as a houseplant on shelves or in hanging baskets and outdoors to beautify the balcony or terrace until low temperatures are a problem for its survival.
Is Dalechampia poisonous?
Like the Poinsettia or Christmas Star and all the Euphorbia also the Dalechampia produces a milky and caustic sap which by contact causes annoying skin and eye irritation that can be avoided simply by wearing gardening gloves.
English name of Dalechampia
In England the plant in reference to the flower bracts similar to butterfly wings, is known as: Silk Crepe Flower, Purple Wings, Bowtie Vine, Costa Rican Butterfly Vine.
Common names of Dalechampia
In Italy it is commonly called: Purple wings, Costa Rican butterfly vine, vine with bow tie
The plant was first described in 1841 and the name Dalechampia was given to it by Charles Plumier to honor and remember Jacques Daléchamps, a 16th-century French physician and botanist. The specific epithet, dioscoreifolia, refers to the leaves that resemble those of Dioscorea.