Swallow Tail, Butterfly Plant (Christia obcordata)

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Plant Details

Category: Annual
Light: Part Shade
Bloom Season: Spring, Summer, Autumn
Height: 18-24" / 
46-61cm
Space: 18-24" / 
46-61cm
Zones: 11, 12
Lowest Temp: 40° to 50°F / 
4° to 10°C
Colors: Grown for foliage

Basic Care

Plant in well drained soil, fertilize regularly.

Water

Water at least twice weekly.

Soil

Organic-rich, well-drained soil.

Feed

All-purpose balanced fertilizer.

Heat Tolerant

Ornamental Foliage

Containers

hanging baskets

Hanging Baskets

Features

A wonderful and unique plant that is sure to grab attention. Christia gets its common name from its triangular-shaped foliage with green and burgundy striping similar to the veins of a bird’s feather, such as a “Swallowtail”. Also known as “Butterfly Plant” because the overall leaf shape resembles a butterfly’s wing.

Uses

Perfect for containers and hanging baskets. Adds a nice splash of color and contrast to mixed container plantings. Bring indoors to a bright window during cold weather.

Swallow Tail, Butterfly Plant (Christia obcordata) Care Guide

Prepare the garden by breaking up the existing soil (use a hoe, spade, or power tiller). Add organic matter such as manure, peat moss or garden compost until the soil is loose and easy to work. Organic ingredients improve drainage, add nutrients and encourage earthworms and other organisms that help keep soil healthy. Give plants an extra boost by adding a granulated starter fertilizer or a balanced all-purpose feed (for example fertilizers labeled 12-12-12).

Check the plant label for suggested spacing. Crowding plants can result in fewer blooms and weak growth as the plants compete for light. Exceptions to this might be regions with a short growing season, shade plantings which tend to grow slower and fill in less quickly, or a need to fill an area with color quickly such as for a special event or if planning to entertain guests outdoors.

Remove the plant from the container. If plants are in a pack, gently squeeze the outside of the individual plant cell while tipping container to the side. If plant doesn’t loosen, continue pressing on the outside of the container while gently grasping the base of the plant and tugging carefully so as not to crush or break the stem until the plant is released. If the plant is in a pot, brace the base of the plant, tip it sideways and tap the outside of the pot to loosen. Rotate the container and continue to tap, loosening the soil until the plant pulls smoothly from the pot.

Dig the hole up to two times larger than the root ball and deep enough that the plant will be at the same level in the ground as the soil level in the container. Grasping the plant at the top of the root ball, use your finger to lightly rake the roots apart. This is especially important if the roots are dense and have filled up the container. Set the plant in the hole.

Push the soil gently around the roots filling in empty space around the root ball. Firm the soil down around the plant by hand, tamping with the flat side of a small trowel, or even by pressing down on the soil by foot. The soil covering the planting hole should be even with the surrounding soil, or up to one inch higher than the top of the root ball. New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks to get them well established.

Vining annuals require vertical space to grow, so provide a trellis, fence, wall or other structure that allows the plant to grow freely and spread.

New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks. After that, depending on the weather and soil type, watering can be adjusted to every two or three days. Clay soils hold moisture longer than sandy soils, so expect to water more frequently in sandy settings.

Different plants have different water needs. Some plants prefer staying on the dry side, others like to be consistently moist. Refer to the plant label to check a plant’s specific requirements.

Ideally water should only be applied to the root zone – an area roughly 6-12” (15-30cm) from the base of the plant, not the entire plant. A soaker hose is a great investment for keeping plants healthy and reducing water lost through evaporation. Hand watering using a watering wand with a sprinkler head attached is also a good way to control watering. If the garden area is large, and a sprinkler is necessary, try to water in the morning so that plant foliage has time to dry through the day. Moist foliage encourages disease and mold that can weaken or damage plants.

To check for soil moisture use your finger or a small trowel to dig in and examine the soil. If the first 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, it is time to water.

Prune plants freely to maintain the desired size and shape. Pinching plants back stimulates dense, bushy new growth and encourages more flowers.

Remove old flowers to keep plant looking healthy and prevent seed production that drains the plant’s energy at the expense of forming new flowers.

Some plants are grown only for their attractive foliage (such as coleus, dusty miller and flowering kale). Their flowers are not very showy and any buds should be pinched off to keep the foliage looking its best.

Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic. Determine which application method is best for the situation and select a product with a nutritional balance designed to encourage blooming (such as 5-10-5).

Too much fertilizer can actually damage plants so it’s important to follow the package directions to determine how much, and how often, to feed plants.

Companion/Combination Plants

16 Comments

  1. Carita

    Do you have a swallowtail for sale?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Carita,
      We do not sell plants at My Garden Life.

      Reply
    • Sandra j Caruso

      Will they grow in New Hampshire

      Reply
      • My Garden Life

        Hi Sandra,
        You could grow a potted Christia obcordata in a pot outdoors as long as temperatures remain above 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). Any temperatures lower than that, and you’ll need to bring it indoors to a bright location.

        Reply
  2. Laura Sutherland

    Would you happen to know if this is reptile safe? Or even just snake safe? Ty!

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Laura,
      We do not know about the safety of this plant for reptiles. Have you considered contacting or visiting a local zoo to try to connect with one of their reptile experts? For example, it looks like you can contact the San Diego Zoo online with questions. Another option might be to contact a retailer of snakes or other reptiles.

      Reply
    • Dianne Miller

      Can you recommend a place to buy the butterfly plant seeds. I have never seen the plant before today and have fallen in love with it.

      Reply
      • My Garden Life

        Hi Dianne,
        We’ve seen Christia obcordata plants and seed offered on Etsy so you might do a search there. We are also seeing it for sale at My Home Nature. Otherwise you could try an internet search for, “where to buy Christia obcordata” and you should get some results.

        Reply
  3. Dedra Gerard

    do you have a butterfly wing plant for sale?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Dedra,
      We do not sell plants at My Garden Life.

      Reply
  4. Lynn Pennington

    is it cat friendly?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Lynn,
      We couldn’t find a definitive answer on the potential toxicity of Christia obcordata to cats, but did see a couple suggestions that it could be “mildly toxic”. Rather than take a chance you might want to consider a similarly pretty, colorful plant called Calathea. They come in a variety of leaf colors and patterns and they are dog and cat friendly. For other options have a look at our article, Pet Friendly Houseplants for ideas.

      Reply
  5. Kristi Britt

    Can this be used as just a house plant?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Kristi,
      You can grow Christia obcordata indoors. Be sure to give it a location where it will receive bright, indirect light near a window or sliding glass door.

      Reply
  6. Sai

    Hello, very hard to find this plant – do you have any sites to recommend ? Thank you

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Sai,
      We’ve seen Christia obcordata plants and seed offered on Etsy so you might do a search there. We are also seeing it for sale at My Home Nature. Otherwise you could try an internet search for, “where to buy Christia obcordata” and you should get some results.

      Reply

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