Posts Tagged ‘Black Swallowtail’


In spite of my love for daylilies, if I were only to have one type of flower in the garden, I might have to go with the echinaceas, or coneflowers. While the daylilies are beautiful, they can’t beat echinacea when it comes to attracting a host of pollinators, most notably butterflies. Few garden visitors are more welcome.


While to our human eyes the flight of butterflies seems carefree and footloose, butterflies live a perilous life as they seek out food and appropriate host plants on which to lay the eggs that will produce a future generation of butterflies. Echinacea provides a much favored nectar source. Ideally, a garden for butterflies should also contain the host plants that are required by the caterpillars of the species. Host plants used by the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), illustrated in the first two photos, include dill, fennel and parsley. I intersperse a bit of each in my perennial garden each year.


By contrast, the host plants used by White Admirals (Limenitis arthemis), below, include a variety of trees including birch, black cherry and chokecherry.


The Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) uses shade trees such as American elm and plants in the nettle family to feed its caterpillars. In addition to sipping nectar at flowers, the Eastern Comma is also attracted to overripe fruit and sap. Unlike many butterflies, it is the outer view of the wings that most readily allows the identification of this butterfly, which is named for the small white mark on the underside of its hind wing.


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Bee on agastache

In the past week or two, the hydrangea bush has been a huge draw for bees and other pollinators. That’s not to say, however, that the pollinators aren’t visiting the rest of the garden. With the exception of daylilies, which I grow for their beautiful faces, I try to keep the birds and the bees in mind when choosing garden plants.

Bee on coneflower

It’s really the least one can do for them, considering what a heavy toll we take on their natural environment, one way and another.

Bee on astilbe

Pictured here are just a few of the garden flowers that attract bees and other pollinators.

Black swallowtail on monarda

Plants such as coreopsis and sunflowers and native grasses provide birds with a seed crop as well.

Bee on coreopsis

A selection of native plants is great, but I also have some non-natives that are very popular. By far the most bee-loved plant in the garden is Dark Mullein (verbascum nigrum). It is the European cousin of our native mullein. This biennial is short-lived, but seeds itself freely. In the spring, I noticed several large rosettes sprouting in a bare patch where I planted annuals last year.

The large leaves are rather weedy and course, but the rosettes expand at an amazing rate. I enjoyed watching the plants as they put out tall, stately flower stalks.

Each individual flower is quite small, but very colourful, with bright yellow petals setting off wine-pink centres and stamens. Once the flower stalks reach their blooming peak, they have a powerful presence in the garden.

At their peak, the flower stalks are hugely attractive to pollinators, especially bumblebees, who gather in large numbers each morning to collect the day’s bounty of nectar. No doubt, if they could vote, the bees would award Dark Mullein their “Pollinator’s Favorite” award. It is also pretty popular with the gardener.

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If you plant parsley and fennel and dill, there is a good chance you will have the opportunity to see Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillars. I have a bit of each of these. I used the parsley earlier in the season, but have allowed it to go to seed. The other two, I just plant for the butterflies. In the last few days, I have spotted caterpillars on the plants.

The little guy, above, is about half an inch long. In its early stages, the Black Swallowtail caterpillar is dark and has tiny spikes. On the middle of its back you can see a white saddle patch.

Pictured above is a “middle-stage” caterpillar. As it matures, the caterpillar loses its dark colour and spikes and develops green and black stripes. Usually, the caterpillars are green with black bands and yellow spots, but caterpillars may occasionally remain dark with spots. The caterpillar above is about an inch long, while the one below is close to an inch and a half. Soon it will be ready to find a twig and spin its chrysalis. It will emerge as a beautiful Black Swallowtail. What a miracle!

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