Swallowtail butterflies are second in popularity after the iconic Monarch butterfly. They are big, beautiful, and colorful. But what Swallowtail host plants do you need? Find out now and how you can best support these beauties!
Swallowtail Host Plants – What to Feed 6 Popular Swallowtail Butterflies
1. Giant Swallowtail
Oh, the beauty of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly! I would say that these are the caterpillars I find the most in my area. I see other Swallowtails and even plant host plants for them, but it’s the infamous “bird poop caterpillars” that I find most of the time.
Haha, that’s right, they look exactly like bird poop; all stages do! They need this excellent camouflage because birds may eat them or they may become parasitized by wasps.
I am always on the fence about putting them in a caterpillar habitat outside, covering the plant with mesh, or just leaving them. I’ve done all three!
I’ve even overwintered these guys before in my garage (so it mimics the outside without being too brutal since they couldn’t hide properly in a habitat). It was fun to watch a gorgeous butterfly emerge in late April!
As you can imagine, they love nectar from various flowers, which I will list below.
But for now, what are the favorite Swallowtail host plants for these giants? Check them out and note that the first two listed are the only ones we usually grow in the Midwest, so check your gardening zone!
- Prickly Ash
- Wild lime
- Hop tree
- Hercules club
- Gas plant
- Sea Torchwood
- Mexican orange
- White Sapote
Again make sure you check your area for which of these can successfully grow there. To be honest, I’ve never heard of half of these on the list!
I almost always have them on my Rue and Prickly Ash, though. Both of these Swallowtail host plants are perennials here!
2. Tiger Swallowtail
Here in the midwest, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are the most plentiful.
Other varieties in the east would include the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail and the Appalachian Swallowtail. In the west, you would find the Western and Pale Tiger Swallowtail.
These butterflies are so pretty! I see them most often on my milkweed and my non-spreading butterfly bush as they sit pretty for pictures. We have quite a few of them here, and they are always a treat to see, as are most butterflies, in my opinion.
They have a variety of host plants as well. Here are the common Tiger Swallowtail host plants:
- Ash trees
- Tulip trees/Tulip poplars
- Wild Black Cherry trees
- Birch trees
- Other members of the Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae families
With the excessive cutting down of trees, we need more in our lives anyway. So plant some of your favorites from this list (and others!) and invite the beautiful Tiger Swallowtail to raise future generations on your property.
3. Black Swallowtail
These beauties are a treat to see here, as I don’t seem to see them as often as the other varieties. I have seen their caterpillars, though, and continue to supply what they need to survive!
Besides planting nectar flowers for them, you can attract them by supplying the plants they’ll lay their eggs on!
Common Black swallowtail host plants include the following:
- Golden Alexander
- Queen Anne’s Lace
These host plants are super easy to grow. As a matter of fact, I grow most of these for the sole purpose of attracting Black Swallowtail caterpillars to my yard!
I’ve mostly seen them on my parsley and dill, although I haven’t tried carrots yet. I’ve also never seen them on Queen Anne’s Lace here, but that’s not to say they haven’t been on there!
As with all the swallowtail larvae, birds and other critters may like to dine on them, so protect them if you want. 🙂
Note: If you DO bring any of these Swallowtail caterpillars into a habitat to raise safely, make sure you place at least 1-2 small sticks in there with them. Propped securely on the side, they will prefer these sticks to make their chrysalis on!
4. Spicebush Swallowtail
I planted my Spicebush solely to have a host plant for these beautiful black butterflies! So far, I haven’t seen any, but friends nearby have them, so I’m hopeful!
Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies are found in the eastern half of the United States. Since their range overlaps with the Black Swallowtail, you may have to look closely to see which beauty you see.
The Spicebush butterflies do not have the tiny black dot in the orange circle at the base of their lower wing as the Black Swallowtails do.
Another difference is in the caterpillars. The Spicebush larvae will roll themselves in a leaf as protection from predators; brilliant! They also have the appearance of huge eyes; they are pretty cool looking.
The Spicebush Swallowtail host plants include:
- White Sassafras
- Tulip tree
- Camphor trees
- Red Bay
- Sweet Bay
I’ll be excited to see my first rolled leaf!
5. Pipevine Swallowtail
Some of the prettiest butterflies belong to the family of Swallowtails, in my opinion! The Pipevine Swallowtail is no exception.
The males are black with this stunning blue iridescent color, and the females are the same, but they lack that blue and sport a small line of light yellow dots on the bottom of their wings.
They range from the eastern half of the US to the southwest and to California. Their caterpillars are very fast-moving and rusty-orange when smaller, black with small orange spots when they are larger.
I personally have not seen a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly here yet. I say yet because I’m going to plant some Pipevine to hopefully attract them!
If you want them to drop some of their bright red eggs in your yard, plant these Pipevine Swallowtail host plants:
As with Monarch butterflies, their host plant makes them somewhat toxic to anything that tries to eat them, so they have at least some protection!
6. Zebra Swallowtail
This beautiful butterfly is the most uncommon out of this list and is only found in decent numbers near its host plant.
This beauty lives in the eastern part of the country, and true to its name, its gorgeous pattern resembles a zebra. You can also recognize it by long “tails” on the end of the wings and a couple of red dots above that.
The Zebra Swallowtail host plant is the:
- Pawpaw tree
Their yellow and white striped caterpillars almost remind me of a Monarch caterpillar, but without the black. And as with most of the Swallowtail butterflies, their chrysalis looks like a leaf!
If you live in the eastern half of the country and want to see this beautiful butterfly and help them grow, then plant Pawpaw trees!
7. Food for butterflies
While it’s great to have Swallowtail host plants, your yard wouldn’t be complete, in my opinion, without beautiful nectar flowers for the butterflies!
If butterflies are coming in for the nectar, then there’s a greater chance they will see your Swallowtail host plants and lay some eggs!
Plus, who doesn’t love seeing a good variety of beautiful butterflies in their gardens!? The nectar and pollen in flowers will also attract native bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.
Here is a list of easy-growers to attract Swallowtails and more:
- Butterfly Bush (try to get non-spreading!)
- Bee Balm
- Butterfly Weed
- Joe Pye Weed
- Globe Thistle
There are, of course, many more flowers to attract Swallowtail and others, but this will definitely get you started!
If you want to complete your yard and make it extra appealing, you can do even more!
Besides the Swallowtail host plants and nectar flowers, you can also add shelter for them. By shelter, I don’t mean a butterfly house, as these usually only attract wasps! I mean bushes, trees, and even tall grasses.
They will roost in these at night to sleep or duck inside of them to stay safe from storms.
They also like big rocks in the sun so they may sun themselves. They usually do this to warm up their body heat since they are ectothermic (cold-blooded). I also have a brick or large rock in my birdbaths in case they need a drink.
You can really complete your yard by treating your visiting butterflies with a butterfly puddler.
A simple way to make one:
- Get an extra birdbath or pan and place it away from bird feeders, foraging chickens, or other bird baths.
- Fill half (or more) of it with non-toxic playground sand.
- Keep it filled with enough water to wet the sand and made a small puddle.
- Place a couple of small-large rocks in the birdbath for support and resting.
- If you really want to complete this, place a tiny amount of manure on the sand (I know, gross, but you can buy the bagged kind that doesn’t seem so bad!)
- You can also place slices of banana, watermelon, or oranges on the side. These need to be checked regularly, though, for rotting.
Your butterflies will absolutely love you. 🙂
I SO love attracting butterflies to my yard! And having Swallowtail host plants (along with other butterfly host plants!) makes me feel like I am helping the beauties’ future generations.
I hope this article has been helpful! Please share your butterfly stories with me below! 🙂