If you are a good host and your invited dinner guest is the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly, there is a set menu you should provide. Your guests, male and female, will arrive dressed in sleek formal black with tails. Adorning the outfit of the female are bright yellow markings and a row of iridescent blue spots between rows of yellow spots at the base. The male will have a yellow band near the edge of the wings. Completing the look is a dashing red spot on each wing that forms a dot when the wings touch.
We have all have seen the fetching Eastern Black Swallowtail merrily dancing in our gardens amongst the nectar plants like phlox, thistle, butterfly bush and purple verbena but to encourage these lovelies, your party should include host plants as well.
Host plants in the carrot family include parsley and dill, fennel, rue, carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace. My butterfly rule of thumb is one plant for me and two for my guests. Dill and parsley grow in sunny beds around my day lilies, my roses and peonies, forming a green and airy foundation for any plant. Butterfly eggs are laid and eggs hatch. In no time you will see the young caterpillars in vibrant stripes of black, chartreuse, cream and yellow. Up one stem of parsley and down another they go. Eat is the name of the game and molt is what they do to fatten up. Parsley disappears and dill disappears but, not to worry, the damage is fully cosmetic. The plants recover. Soon the plump youngsters are ready to pupate, form a chrysalis, and within 1-2 weeks, an adult emerges fully dressed for the next party.
Providing a habitat for the Black Swallowtail is fun, easy, educational and good for the garden. It’s time to stop squishing those parsley caterpillars and share the abundance of nature. Be a good host to the Black Swallowtail butterfly.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester