Help Pollinators

22 Frugal Plants for Black Swallowtails

Picture of a black swallowtail butterfly on a Butterfly bush which is not on this list of plants to grow due to it being an invasive species.

Why do you want to attract black swallowtails to your garden?

Besides being a gorgeous contrast to your flowers, black swallowtails are a great pollinator for your garden.

Monarchs have been struggling for years in population but the black swallow tail butterflies are more abundant. Somehow they have adapted to the increase in backyard gardens. Black swallowtail caterpillars eat many types of host plants which increases their rate of survival while Monarch caterpillars prefer milkweed.

No one wants to think about this but black swallowtail butterflies are a food source for song birds. To help them survive, the caterpillars expel a chemical ,from the food they consume, making them taste bad. Other animals that eat black swallowtails are spiders, praying mantis, beetles, toads, frogs, lizards and bats.

Table of Contents

What is a host plant?

A host plant is a plant in which caterpillars consume to help them grow.

What types of host plants should I include in my garden?

Black swallowtail caterpillars aren’t as fussy as Monarch caterpillars and they feed on a variety of host plants that are easy, low maintenance additions to your garden.

Cilantro also called Coriander

Zones: If you live in colder zones like 5 and 6, you can grow it in the spring and fall. I live in zone 6 and I let mine go to seed in my raised bed. In the fall and spring, new plants start growing on their own. In warmer zones, cilantro grows better in the fall, winter and spring when the temps are cooler.

Water: One inch of rain or water per week.

Sun Exposure: Part sun at least 4+ hours. In full sun, your cilantro can bolt or grow too fast so the harvest time is very short. I have a few of my recipes on hand where I have the majority of ingredients already. This makes it very efficient to harvest and use cilantro from my garden before it bolts.

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Dill isn’t the only herb that acts as a host plant in your garden. Many people have only a small space to work with when gardening so herbs are a great way to attract pollinators and act as host plants for both black swallowtails and other butterfly varieties. Click here to find out which herbs you can work with.

Zones: 2-11

Water: 1-2 inches of rain or water per week. Keeping it water may keep it from growing too fast or bolting.

Sun Exposure: Full sun 6+ hours a day. When choosing a spot, avoid windy spots. Dill grow up tall and are fragile so strong winds can knock them down.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Black swallowtails are also called Parsley Swallowtails due to the caterpillars love for parsley.

Zones: 2-11. Parsley prefers cooler weather. I know mine grows fastest in the early fall in zone 6.

Water: Needs watering 2-3 times a week if it hasn’t rained, more during droughts.

Sun Exposure: It needs full sun at least 6+ hours.

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

When picking flowers, be careful of confusing Queen Anne’s Lace with Poison Hemlock (Conium Maculatum) which is one of the deadliest plants in North America. Click h ere to learn the difference.

Zones: 3-9. In my zone 6 area, Queen Anne’s Lace comes back every year in different spots so I let them go to seed so they keep coming back.

Water: Weekly to establish it. Once it’s established, it’s very low maintenance.

Sun Exposure: Loves full sun but can grow in dappled light.

What native plants provide food for black swallowtails?

Thistle (Cirsium)

As much as I love thistle self-seeding on my property, I am mindful of the location it’s growing in. I don’t let me grow along well worn paths because those thorns are pretty. It’s also not a good idea gardens with little kids. They are good for growing along the woods edge or near ponds.

Zones: 3-10

Water: Needs to be watered weekly until it grows about several feed then only needs to be watered if you see it start to wilt. Thistle can be drought resistant.

Sun Exposure: Thistles like about 6+ hours of sun a day. Mine self seed on the edge of the woods around my chicken coop where it gets a lot of sun.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Zones: 4-9 (Native to Central/Eastern US and Canada)

Water: Seedlings need to be watered until they can grow on their own in when there are extended time in between waterings. After this, it doesn’t need to be watered by you unless it’s a prolonged dry spell and showing some wilting with it’s leaves. Milkweeds naturally grow in poor soil conditions without much fussing over them.

Sun Exposure: Needs full sun.

Clover (Trifolium)

What’s nice about clover lawns is that it doesn’t have to mowed as often as grass. I personally love walking on the thick patches of clover in my yard. If you have a lot of blooming clover, watch for bees when you’re walking. I accidentally got one stuck in my open toed sandal and got stung.

Zones: 3-10

Water: I live in the New England area and I don’t have to water my lawn even when there are dry spells.

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade. It’s can take more shade than grass.

Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea)

Not the same thing as New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveborecensis) which is considered more invasive. Blooms in late summer but lasts into the fall. It’s a favorite for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Zones: 4-9 Grows best along woodlands, roadsides and along streams throughout the United States and Ontario.

Water: It needs about 1″ of water per week (prefers moist soil) so if you have a pond or creek on your property, this is a good native plant to grow.

Sun Exposure: It does well in full sun but can grow in partial shade.

Joe Pyeweed (Eutrochium purpuream)

It’s often naturally found among fields and woodland areas in North East US.

Zones: 4-9

Water: They like a lot of water with time to dry out in between. Don’t let it stay muddy.

Sun Exposure: Likes morning sun but if exposed to harsh afternoon sun, the leaves might turn yellow.

Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Tulip trees are native to the United States and Ontario. It’s a beautiful tree that grows quite large. I have quite a few on my property that I let propagate naturally.

Butterflies and hummingbirds both like the Tulip tree flowers when they bloom in May. The black Spicebush Swallowtail likes this tree as a host. Song birds like cardinals, grosbeaks and finches love eating the seeds from Tulip trees.

The only thing I don’t like about the Tulip tree is that it’s a weak tree. After a storm, their branches are strewn all over the place. The flowers are also messy when they fall. All my Tulip trees are along the woods edge, not near my house or along sidewalks. It’s still a great tree to have in your yard as long as it’s planted in a place where it won’t cause damage.

Zones: 4-9

Water: They like moist soil with some acidity.

Sun Exposure: Need 6+ hours of sunlight. They thrive in full sun.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Native Americans used this tree for natural medicine and used the leaves to thicken soups. It smells like root beer and was the plant that was used to give root beer its taste. The black Spicebush Swallowtail likes to lay eggs on the Sassafras.

Zones: 4-9

Water: During drought conditions, they could benefit from a deep watering.

Sun Exposure: It can grow in full sun and part shade. I have some growing on the edge of my woods and under other trees. I have noticed it self seeding in my field where there is full sun.

Native Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Blooms in late spring, early summer. They gradually self sow and are easily transplanted. The flowers attract the black swallowtail and other butterflies.

Zones: 3-8

Water: They like moist soil but not muddy.

Sun Exposure: Light to medium shade.

Native phlox (Phlox paniculata)

This variety attracts hummingbirds, skippers, hummingbird moths and of course butterflies. Butterflies are the primary pollinator of this phlox species according to this article. It has a wonderful perfume and I love planting fragrant flowers along walkways in my garden so I can always stop to smell them. Many bees have tongues that are to short to gather pollen so you’ll be attracting more non-stinging pollinators if you are worried about bees.

Zones: 4-8

Water: one inch per week rain or from the hose

Sun Requirements: Full sun to partial shade

What non-native plants provide food and/or be a host for black swallowtails?

While I fully encourage planting as much native plants as possible to support us, our environment and wildlife, there are some non-native plants that I make the exception for. The exceptions are that it doesn’t become invasive, thereby, making the problem bigger and that it provides multiple benefits. My reasoning is that we collectively need to do as much as possible to re-balance nature.

Celery (Apium graveolens)

Although celery is a non-native plant, it can be a host for the eastern black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar that feeds off of it. Plus it’s edible and worth growing yourself to avoid pesticides.

Zones: 2-10

Water: If celery doesn’t get 1-2″ of rain, then they will need to be watered. Any disruption in their watering schedule can alter the taste of celery and make the stalks more stringy.

Sun Exposure: They need full sun 6+ hours but could benefit from a little shade at the hottest time of the day.

Bee Balm (Monarda)

Monarch or Bee Balm is a a beacon for pollinators especially bright red. It’s deer resistant and comes in several colors including bright red, pink and lavender. The shape of the flowers is very attractive to swallowtail butterflies to dip their long tongue in. It can be aggressive so regularly thinning it out is recommended or planting it in a raised bed to keep it contained.

Zones: 4-9 but doesn’t grow as well in very humid climates

Water: Needs water weekly so it doesn’t wilt but not so much that it brings on mildew

Sun Exposure: Full sun but it’s better if they have some afternoon shade

Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Cone flowers have the color and shape that beckons butterflies including the black swallowtail to them. Cone flowers aren’t invasive and are well known to have properties that help with cold symptoms. While it’s probably not the first flower they prefer, it’s still a good choice for a sunny spot in your garden.

Zones: 4-9

Water: They can be drought tolerant when established but prefer an inch of water per week whether it’s rain or from the hose.

Sun Requirements: 6-8 hours of full sun

Orange Tree (Citrus sinensis)

Black swallowtail butterflies are attracted to citrus trees including lemon, lime and orange trees. The flowers have a sweet but powerful fragrance. They use it as a host plant to lay their eggs.

Zones: 9-11

Water: 4-6 inches a month whether it’s rainfall or hose

Sun Requirements: Fully sun 6+ hours but could benefit from afternoon shade

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata)

This is an easy plant to grow and is deer resistant. Pollinators flock to it for the round shape and bright colors of the flowers. It provides food for pollinators during it’s long flowering season. There are dozens of species of native blanket flowers growing across North America. One variety is called Indian Blanket. I wish I had a photo in my portfolio to show you but you can click here to learn more about them.

Zones: 3-8

Water: Weekly but they are drought tolerant. Great for a place in your garden that gets lots of sun and the soil is on the drier side. Be careful not to over water.

Sun Requirements: Full sun

Mystic Spires Salvia (Salvia longispicata x farinacea)

If you live in a colder zone, you can grow this variety as an annual. It adapts to heat and humidity during the summer months. It’s easy to grow, flexible with soil and has tons of nectar during it’s long blooming period. With so many blooms, it can get top heavy. You can use garden supports so that the flower spikes don’t break off.

Zones: 7-10

Water: It would prefer to have a consistent water schedule but can tolerate dry spells.

Sun Requirements: About 6 hours of sunlight but can tolerate 4 hours.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)

Black swallowtail butterflies do enjoy the nectar as do other types including Monarchs. It’s treated as an annual in Zone 6 where I live but warmer areas, it grows longer. You can start seeds indoors to get a head start or direct sow in your garden.

Zone: 2-11 but it is damaged when the temperature dips to 30F. In colder regions, it’s considered an annual. Living in zone 6, I plant the seeds after the danger of frost has passed which is about the 2nd week in May.

Water: Once established, they can be drought tolerant with occasional supplemental watering. Less watering is needed if they are in part shade. The recommended amount of watering to establish Mexican Sunflowers is about a cup once a week.

Sun Requirements: Full sun but consider a little shade if you don’t have time to water your garden.

Pentas (Pentas lanceolata)

Pentas are native to Africa and Yemen. It would be considered an annual in colder regions and can grow in a pot. Butterflies flock to this plant. You need to deadhead them as the flowers don’t fall off on their own to encourage constant blooming. They can be started from seed indoors about 7-9 weeks before the end of the last frost date. They grow well in pots.

Zones: 10-11

Water: They are high maintenance with daily watering during the heat of the summer.

Sun Requirements: 6-8 hours of full sun

Purple Prince Zinnia

Zinnias are easy to grow from seed and their bright colors are a beacon for butterflies including the black swallowtails. Although they are all beautiful, it’s important to note that the double blooming varieties make it hard for pollinators to find the food as quickly because it’s so full of blooms. Either focus on single bloom varieties or if you’re buying a mix, make sure there aren’t many double bloom varieties.

Zone: 2-11 but in colder regions they are killed off by frost. I live in zone 6 and I start seeds 2nd week in May when the danger of frost has passed.

Water: Weekly to the point that the ground is a little moist. Water at the base of the Zinnia plants because watering them from the top can encourage powdery mildew if it isn’t sunny enough.

Sun Requirements: Zinnia need full sun meaning more than 8 hours a day. Lots of sun also helps deter powdery mildew which can spread quickly and affect their blooms.

Summary

Remember when planning a garden or choosing plants to attract black swallowtail butterflies, you will need to included a host plant along with other plants. Including plants to attract them into your garden is only half the effort because there isn’t a reason to stay in your garden. Planting host plants will encourage them to stay, lay eggs and feed their babies. Planting native plants are always encouraged because it aligns better with the environment.

I am excited for you to begin planting different varieties of plants so you can invite these beautiful neighbors into their garden. I’d love to hear from you to find out how well it worked for you in your space because everyone’s garden is unique from the soil to the environment.