Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Clammyweed revisited—and visited

with 25 comments

Two-tailed swallowtail; click for greater detail.

Those of you who have been subscribers to this blog since the last week of June may recall the photographs of clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra, taken from the side and the top. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed more of this drought-defying species in 2011 than ever before. My latest encounter with it was just yesterday, when I found some growing in the completely dry bed of Barton Creek in south Austin. As I was looking at the plant, a two-tailed swallowtail butterfly, Papilio multicaudata, began fluttering about as it gathered nectar from the clammyweed flowers.* Swallowtails are among the largest of all butterflies that we have in this part of the world, with a wingspan of from 3 to 5 inches, and I’ve usually found them to be quite skittish. This one, though, probably eager to get whatever nourishment it can during the drought, let me get close and take lots of pictures. Occasionally a too-sudden movement of my camera startled it away, but after flying about for a while it always came back.

Note—if you can take your eyes off this attractive butterfly—that the clammyweed is satisfying insects in at least two ways: the destructive way of whatever ate all those little round holes out of the leaves at the left, and of course the non-destructive way of the swallowtail.


* When I posted this entry I misidentified the butterfly as an eastern tiger swallowtail. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a two-tailed swallowtail, but as you can see from the first comment on this post, Shelly pointed me in the right direction. Thanks to Shelly, and also to Val Bugh for further confirmation. Live and learn.

© Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2011 at 5:54 AM

25 Responses

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  1. What a gorgeous butterfly photo!!! I am not an expert, but it seems to me like this may actually be a two-tailed swallowtail, Papilio multicaudata, as opposed to an eastern tiger swallowtail. They are very similar in appearance, but as the latter name implies, it has two tails on each hind wing instead of one. Older two-tailed swallowtails can be difficult to distinguish from eastern tigers because the tails often “wear off” as butterflies age and become tattered. Yours appears to be very “young” and in beautiful condition. Two-tailed swallowtails are western butterflies, and are actually the largest of all western butterflies. They do have a range in Texas. Check out this link for comparison and see what you think (it’s evidently the state butterfly of Arizona): http://www.azgfd.gov/i_e/ee/resources/factsheets/swallowtail.pdf.


    September 22, 2011 at 7:05 AM

  2. Nice !


    September 22, 2011 at 7:27 AM

  3. she’s a beauty! i’ve seen a lot fewer butterflies this year because of the drought! 😦


    September 22, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    • Yes, I think we all have seen fewer of them. That’s why I was so happy that this one consented to have me near it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2011 at 12:39 PM

  4. I love butterflies, this is beautiful!! A great start to my day, finding this in my email 🙂


    September 22, 2011 at 9:50 AM

  5. Great photo!

    What a beautiful butterfly and how nice of him to spread his wings like that for you to take pictures.

    The big Red Admiral I watched last week had zero patience with me. I saw it sailing gently across a large bed of roses and off to riverbank. I guess, I will have to wait for its offspring next spring, but now I know where to look.


    September 22, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    • Maybe the drought worked in my favor for once. Good luck with your red admiral; I know how elusive butterflies can be.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM

      • Thank you for your good wishes, they obviously helped!



        September 27, 2011 at 11:38 AM

      • I’m glad you succeeded. I assume the buzzing bush gets its name from all the insects that are attracted to its flowers, so it was a good place for you to be.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 27, 2011 at 12:28 PM

      • Calling the plant “Buzzing Bush” was solely my idea. I don’t know what it is, probably a horticultural plant.


        September 28, 2011 at 11:00 AM

      • Now all you have to do is get everyone else to start calling it a buzzing bush.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 28, 2011 at 12:33 PM

  6. Really nice! Wow.


    September 22, 2011 at 12:13 PM

  7. My first introduction to clammyweed was when I was in South Austin off Ben White. I ran into a huge couple of bushes (they were large clumps) covered with black butterflies. I could not believe how beautiful it was – must have been about 30 of them swarming around the clammyweed. At any rate, I looked up the wildflower and it’s been one of my favorites ever since. Thanks for including it.

    Nancy Wederstrandt

    September 22, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    • I’m always happy to meet another clammyweed appreciator. Your experience with all those butterflies must have been wonderful: I’ve never seen anything like what you describe, so thanks for telling us about it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2011 at 9:41 PM

  8. Exquisite shot!


    September 22, 2011 at 11:54 PM

  9. Gorgeous! I saw several Giant Swallowtails here in my neighborhood earlier this summer but haven’t seen any of these, unfortunately.


    September 23, 2011 at 5:39 PM

  10. Such a beautiful shot, Steve. It’s such a gift when they will stay awhile and let you get close.

    farmhouse stories

    September 24, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    • Thanks. The swallowtail let me get even closer than you see here, but I decided to post an overview so you can see the whole butterfly.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 24, 2011 at 10:29 PM

  11. […] three showed a panorama of a swallowtail on a thistle in a meadow of wildflowers, then a closeup of a two-tailed swallowtail on clammyweed, and finally a monarch on a rain-lily. In the past couple of weeks, which have seen some rain, […]

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