University of Florida Extension ServiceUF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:

November 1, 2007

Quick Links:    MG Conference  Stripe Botany   Photos   Stripe Culture   References  Stripe Sources

Feature Article - for release the week of November 4, 2007

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent


Stripe: new Wings for the Home

StripeThis plant is called 'Stripe'. It was provided by CostaColor to many of the Florida Master Gardeners at this year's state conference.

Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

At the annual Florida Master Gardener Conference last week, volunteers were updated and inspired with current information about Florida Friendly landscape practices.  Those attending this year in Gainesville were die-hard plant lovers.  To feed this need, the planning committee made sure that everybody came home with some new ornamentals for their Florida Yard.

Today’s column will tempt you with some of the new ideas that we picked up. They will be shared in future columns and training here on the Lake.  But today I will share what I’ve found out about one of the “green goodies” that we brought back with use – a curious houseplant that looks like it is covered with butterflies.


Conference Highlights

The planning committee wanted volunteers to practice identifying common Florida aquatic plants, so I set up a contest for the volunteers.  I also was part of a panel that discussed the current status of the Florida Yards & Neighborhood programs.  FYN Program Assistant Angela Sachson also attended the Conference along with one of our newest Master Gardeners, Pat Johnson.

In between, our Okeechobee team attended presentations by Extension specialists, toured UF turf and landscape research plots, celebrated Master Gardener volunteer accomplishments, dug deep into our pockets during an auction to raise volunteer training funds, and were inspired by a captivating speech, Attention Deficit Gardening, by Dr. Robert Lyons, Director of University of Delaware’s training programs at Longwood Gardens.

The Aquatic Plant challenge was just that: a challenge!  There were 25 plants found in Florida wetlands, ponds and canals, and an answer sheet was given to the volunteers.  They had  to use aquatic plant identification guides to match names with plants  You can try it yourself on-line by going to our Master Gardener website,


Taking flight from Obscurity

Botanists are still exploring the globe, identifying and reporting on all kinds of vegetation from all over.  According to what I have been able to uncover, a botanist exploring the Far East first noticed a lowly vining herb growing in tropical highlands of tropical Asia and Australia. Around 1961, characteristics for a “new” plant were recorded, and its botanical name was established as Christia obcordata.

A member of the bean family, this sprawling tropical perennial grows up and falls over, reaching heights of 2-4 feet.  It has a compound leaf, which means that it has several flat leaf blades that make up one leaf. In this case, the leaf shape is like a green bean plant, with three leaflets, but they are wider than long. The middle leaflet is about twice as big as the side leaflets.

Photos of the Butterfly Plant

Right: Botanical drawing of Christa obcordata.  

Source: Herbarium, National Taiwan University

Native Christia plant form

Above: Photo of a wild type Christa obcordata found on a website from Japan.

Botanical drawing of Christia obcordia
Leaf of Stripe plant 

The leaflet above shows the color pattern that gives this plant the common name of Butterfly Plant. Photo (c) TopTropicals 

Butterfly Stripe plant This is a nursery grown specimen of 'Stripe' ready for market. Photo (c) TopTropicals 

complete compound (3-part) leaf of 'Stripe'     

As with most members of the bean family, 'Stripe' has a compound leaf.  Photo: MotherNature4

Christia has thin stems that, like the leaves, are slightly hairy.  Flower clusters grow from shoots that pop out from the stems just above the leaf stalk.  They produce clusters of small near white-colored flowers in the late summer or fall.  If pollinated, a small twisted seed pod is produced.  Some plant scientists have studied this plant and determined that like many other legumes, it can take nitrogen from air and make it into fertilizer.

Horticulturalists are a different breed – they look at plants and try to use their characteristics for food or as ornamentals.  One horticulturalist found a larger leaved specimen with lime green leaves, and the veins turned a burgundy red color.  Burl Mostul of Rare Plant Research in Portland saw Christia in a Thailand marketplace.  He had it legally imported and used tissue culture to bring it to domestic markets - a new cultivar was born.  

The color and leaf shape makes Christia looks a lot like a striped butterfly. This is the plant that was given to our Master Gardeners, courtesy of Costa Color of Miami.  Common names for this plant include: Butterfly Plant, Butterfly Leaf, Iron Butterfly, Butterfly Stripe, or Swallowtail. It does NOT attract butterflies – it just looks like it.

A second species of this plant looks and behaves much like Stripe: Christia vespertilionis is known as Red Butterfly Wing, or Mariposa, Spanish for “butterfly”.  Differences are that it is less cold tolerant, the leaf color is a light pinkish green, and the stripes are much less pronounced.

Red Butterfly Wings - vining habit

The Red Butterfly Wing is another species, Christia vespertilionisPhoto: jnana

Red Butterfly Wings - container plant This shows a more pink version of the The Red Butterfly Wing, possibly due to being grown in lower light conditions. Photo: artcons 

 Growing Stripe

Because this plant is new to growers, we are still unsure what conditions are best for Stripe to thrive. Most references say to use a shady location and lots of water.  Reports are that leaves will burn in direct sun.  Soils should be well drained, but avoid bother overwatering and drying out.   

There is one report that it grows quite well when given full sun for 7 hours a day and bright indirect light the rest of the day.  Another observation is that because of its tropical origins, it will go dormant in winter.  

The thin stems will need pinching to encourage side branches, especially as the plant starts to pick up its growth in the spring.  Propagation has been done by cuttings, but I’ve not heard that seed have been successfully used to grow this plant.

Let me know if you see it for sale locally, and keep me informed on your success with this new houseplant.  I’ve placed more information and photos on our Okeechobee web page,  If you need additional information on Christia ‘Stripe’, please email us at or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons. GO GATORS! 


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Millie Ferrer, Interim, Dean. Last update: 08/10/2010.  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert


Christia obcordata.    Florida Gardening Forum/ Garden Web. 

Huang, Tseng-Chieng.   Flora of Taiwan, Vol.6, second Ed. pp. 213-214.   Herbarium National University of Taiwan.  2003. 

Mei-Hua Hung, Arun A. Bhagwath, Fo-Ting Shen, Rekha P. Devasya and Chiu-Chung Young.   Indigenous rhizobia associated with native shrubby legumes in Taiwan.  INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON IMPACTS OF SOIL BIODIVERSITY ON BIOGEOCHEMICAL PROCESSES IN ECOSYSTEMS, TAIPEI, TAIWAN, 2004.  doi:10.1016/j.pedobi.2005.06.002    

Whitinger, Dave. Family: Papilionaceae, Genus: Christia.  Bryan/College Station, Texas: Dave's Garden (website.): 11/1/2007. 

Possible Sources for Christia plants:

Driftwood Garden center,  Estero and Naples FL.

TopTropicals Plant Catalog.  Christia (Cristia) obcordata, Christia subcordata, Lourea obcordata. Website,  11/1/2007: 

Zone 9 Tropicals,  go to Vines listings.