This is the time of year when backyard wildlife enthusiasts are hard at work gardening for wildlife. If you enjoy butterflies, you are probably sowing seeds or setting out plants that will attract these flying flowers.
For years, the goal of these efforts has been providing adult butterflies with dependable sources of nectar throughout as much of the year as possible. Nowadays butterfly gardeners are also planting host plants for these beautiful insects.
Host (also called caterpillar) plants are the plants that provide food butterfly caterpillars. While as a general rule, butterflies will eat nectar from a wide variety of sources, they only lay their eggs one a small number of plants. If a butterfly’s host plant(s) are not available in your yard or neighborhood, they will not lay their eggs there and your chances of seeing that particular species is reduced.
With that in mind, savvy butterfly gardeners are incorporating host plants into their gardens. Fortunately, it is extremely easy to provide the host plants used by the black swallowtail.
Black swallowtails lay their eggs on plants that are members of the Apiaceae family, which includes Queen Anne’s lace, carrots, fennel, parsley, and celery.
If you go ahead and plant any of these species in your yard right now, you have an excellent chance of having them used by black swallowtails this year.
Here is a planting tip: plant a bunch of whatever plants you choose. If you don’t, should a female black swallowtail lay her eggs on your plantings, the voracious caterpillars could easily eat the plants up before they become established.
Terry, I thought I had a black swallowtail caterpiller on some rue that I planted last year. Does that sound right? Beautiful. He enjoyed it. I love that plant.
Pat, yes, common rue is a host plant for the black swallowtail.
Queen Anne’s lace is classified as a noxious weed in several states, and is illegal to plant in a few. Native alternatives that attract the black swallowtail butterfly include Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), Texas Prairie Parsley (Polytaenia texana), and Nuttall’s Prairie Parsley (Polytaenia nutallii), depending on what state you live in.
You may have indeed seen a black swallowtail on your rue plant.