Local Hero Saves San Fran Swallowtail Population

It’s Time for Some Good News:
Local Hero Brings Back Rare Butterfly Species in His Backyard
With everything going on in the world right now, it can feel impossible to make a difference. We face complex problems that we’ve never faced before as human beings, but we’re still trying our best just to live our lives. Sometimes it’s enough to make you feel like not trying!

While there is a lot that we can’t control, we forget sometimes that the small actions we take matter. Sometimes we forget that a little bit of love can go a long way.

Even though our little pocket of the world may be small, it is still a piece of the pie. 

If you want a reminder of this truth, listen and we will tell you a tale, a Swallowtail… Have you have ever seen a gorgeous royal blue wisp on the wind? Well, it might have been a pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor). 
If you love these Pipevine Swallowtails as much as we do, you should know that they had all but disappeared from San Francisco until local resident Tim Wong decided to do something about it. 

“I became aware of the California Pipevine Swallowtail — which is native here to San Francisco — a couple years ago,” Wong said in an interview with the Weather Channel this past summer.

“I was looking into trying to create a pollinator habitat in my own backyard and I found that there were some native butterflies that needed a little extra help.” 

Although the Pipevine Swallowtail was still common near the coast and in the Sierra foothills, they had all but disappeared from San Francisco. The species’ host plant, pipevine, was sparse and so the butterflies were unable to survive and thrive. 
“What I learned is that a lot of our native butterflies have really tight relationships with native plants and some types of butterflies may only feed on one native plant.” 

Fortunately, Wong was able to find the native pipevine plant in the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park and was permitted to take home a few clippings of the plant to propagate at home. 
You can see its natural distribution map here:
(Photo credit: entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/pipevine_swallowtail.htm
“[I built] a large screen enclosure to protect the butterflies and to allow them to mate under outdoor environmental conditions — natural sun, airflow, temp fluctuations.”

Once his butterfly habitat was complete, Wong traveled outside of the city to carefully source 20 Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. After three to four weeks, the caterpillars began pupating and forming a chrysalis. Once they hatched, Wong continued caring for them as they laid eggs on the Pipevine plants and raised new caterpillars in the same habitat. 

“From there,” Wong said, “the cycle continues.”

Tim loves all of the media coverage on his home habitat efforts, but he wants people to know he’s just a guy who wanted to make a difference.

Improving habitat for native fauna is something anyone can do,” Wong said. “Conservation and stewardship can start in your very own backyard.”
Want to make your backyard into a native butterfly and bird sanctuary?

You actually don’t need a butterfly enclosure, you just need to give Mother Nature a little hand.

So what can you do in your own backyard to make a difference? Well, let’s hear from Tim! 
“My advice: Figure out what might already be living in your area and target those species by planting regionally appropriate native plants, forgo the use of insecticides/pesticides, and remember that even small urban spaces can still support our pollinators! If you don’t have space for a garden, consider volunteering at a garden project, community garden, or other green spaces.

Disclaimer- No one can do anything alone and titles don’t often give enough credit to the mentors, friends, horticulturists, volunteers, entomologists, and local gardeners that have worked collectively to support our butterflies. Remember that anyone can make a difference, even in your own backyard.”
Curious about how to make the earth a little greener right from your backyard?
If you’re someone that wants more mentorship and community to help you along your journey, look no further than our annual small-group garden design course, the 2024 Placemakers Garden Design Immersion. You can learn more here:
If you want to know how more about how to elegantly invite the Pipevine Swallowtail and other butterflies into your own home garden,

Stay tuned for Part 2… ‘How to Win Butterflies and Influence Birds’ 
We all need a little help sometimes, and Mother Nature does too.

Happy Placemaking! 
Scroll to Top