Want Swallowtails? Go Herbal!

©2012 Beth Billstrom

Swallowtail host & nectar plant container garden ©2012 Beth Billstrom

It’s National Pollinator Week.  An inspiring time of year to honor all of our little pollinating friends.  Several years ago I started a bee and butterfly garden on the southeast side of my property. It’s grown from a 10′ x 4′ kidney bean into a border that runs the length and width of my backyard.

I add bee and butterfly attracting plants every year.  This year’s additions include Eupatorium dubium ‘Baby Joe’ (Joe-pye weed), Rudbeckia laciniata (Black-eyed Susan), Sedum ‘Carl’, Monarda ‘Coral Reef’ (Bee balm). Liatris ligulistylisEchineacea purpurea ‘Pica Bella’ (Coneflowers), Vernonia fasiculata (Common Ironweed) and Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ (Goldenrod).  My soil is hard–packed clay, so even with tilling and amendments, it takes the plants a bit to get settled.  But, the tiny plants are doing their jobs as I’ve already seen Red Admirals, fritillaries, and a stream of yet-to-be identified bees, caterpillars, butterflies and moths.

While I was making all these grand efforts at attracting a wide species of pollinators, I was also growing herbs and annuals in containers.  Guess what?  I found out that the butterflies and other pollinators also LOVE many of my herbs, too.  Soooooo, if you’ve dreamed of a butterfly garden, but don’t have a large space in your yard, be encouraged.  You can “go herbal” and easily attract butterflies to your deck or porch by planting a few well-chosen herbs and annuals in a container.

English: Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)...

English: Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), male, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which butterflies would you like to attract?  I recommend Eastern Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes).  These delightful butterflies can be found east of the Rockies as far north as Canada and south down to Mexico. Bold and beautiful, the Eastern Black Swallowtail colors are easily spotted from a distance, and easily identified from other butterflies by the curved tips dangling from their hind wings.  These tips often look like an insect head to other predators.  However, when snapped at by a hungry bird, the clever Swallowtail is able to fly away leaving only a portion of its wings with the confused predator.  Ingenious.  (And fun to watch….as long as the Swallowtail is quicker than the predator!)

Eastern Black Swallowtails are attracted to any plants of the carrot family as well as….you guessed it, herbs.  I put together a simple Swallowtail-attracting-garden by planting parsley and dill (host plants for Swallowtail caterpillars), along with oregano and orange zinnias (nectar plants).  It’s a great looking container and one the these butterflies will love.  My container sits in full sun (it can handle some shade), out of the wind.  I make sure to sure to keep it watered, but not saturated.

Get on board with the festivities of National Pollinator Week, go herbal and plant a Swallowtail garden!  Be sure to check back later this week (Thursday).  I”ll be posting on identifying Swallowtail eggs, caterpillars and chrysalis.  After all, when you’re special guests come to your garden, you’ll want to know who they are!

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4 responses to “Want Swallowtails? Go Herbal!

  1. Love it ! i have a herbs garden with mint, dill (well it’s blooming not normal) 3 basil Italian and minty, then big rosemary, parsley and sage, I hope I will get swallowtails too…Thanks for your garden writing.

  2. I realize I am reading this 2 months after your post, but my question concerns the caterpillars. Aren’t they going to eat the host plants? And then what am I left with? If they aren’t eating the host plant, then what are they eating? That has always been my hesitation with planting butterfly attracting plants.

    • Penny, no problem on the timescale. Thank you for asking such a great questions. You’re right, the host plants do get eaten, especially the dill. I usually plant several containers with an assortment of herbs. My philosophy is one for the caterpillar/butterflies and one for me….although it doesn’t always work out that neatly. However, I’ve never had so many caterpillars that my entire herb crop was eaten by them. You can also make sure that you have seeds on hand, and if too much is being eaten, then just replant it. It’s good to realize before you try to attract butterflies that this type of garden isn’t a pristine landscaped type garden. It’s more of a relaxed, work-in-progress.

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