Table of Contents for Swallowtail Butterflies and Host Plants in Grand Rapids, MI
Grand Rapids, Michigan is located in the northwestern part of the lower peninsula in the state of Michigan in the United States. Grand Rapids is located at the edge of USDA Plant hardiness zones 5 and 6. In the Grand Rapids area, there are seven species of Swallowtail butterflies that you can host in your butterfly garden.
Location of Grand Rapids, MI and Kent County
The Grand Rapids area as covered in this post covers Kent County in Michigan. The list of species includes those that occur in this county and nearby to it.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids, MI and Kent County are within zones 5 and 6. When selecting plants you will want to get those that can handle temperatures as cold as -15F to be sure they will survive.
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) and its host plants in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)
The pipevine swallowtail flies throughout the United States, except for the Pacific Northwest. It has orange-brown eggs that are laid on the host plant. The black to brown to red caterpillar with orange markings comes out in the spring. They then overwinter as a pupa (Monroe and Wright 2017).
In the spring and into the summer the adult butterflies start to fly. They have a wingspan of 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) to 5 inches (12.7 cm) inches and are black colored with white markings and have a greenish reflection.
Plants that Host the Pipevine Swallowtail
The pipevine swallowtail is generally hosted by members of the birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae). This butterfly is found in the southern part of the area in towards to the city of Cadillac, MI. Two species that hosts this species, wild ginger (Asarum canadense) and Virginia snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria) are located in Kent County. Virginia snakeroot is considered to be rare in Michigan.
Zebra Swallowtail (Neographium marcellus) and its host plants in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Zebra Swallowtail (Neographium marcellus)
The zebra swallowtail flies in the mid-western and eastern United States. The green to brown eggs are laid on the leaves of the host plant, which is the pawpaw. The caterpillars have two color variations, first black and then later stages are more colorful with green and yellow stripes. The brown chrysalis can overwinter in places of cold temperatures (Wikipedia).
The black and white multi-colored adults have a wingspan of 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) to 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) and fly from February to December with a more restricted season in more northern places. The early season brood can be smaller and has a shorter tail than the later summer brood that is larger and has a long tail (Animal Diversity Web – University of Michigan).
Plants that Host the Zebra Swallowtail
The zebra swallowtail uses members of the Custard Apple Family (Annonaceae) as host plants. In the Grand Rapids, MI area, pawpaw (Asmina triloba), an understory tree, is used as a host and reaches the southern limit of its range in the area.
Canadian Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) and its host plants in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Canadian Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis)
The canadian swallowtail flies through the northeast and northern tier of the United States including Alaska and Canada. It has orange-brown eggs that are laid on the host plant. The caterpillar is brown at first to look like a bird dropping and then turns green later. The pupa then overwinters to emerge in the spring.
In the spring the adult butterflies start to fly. They have a wingspan of 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) to 3 inches (7.6 cm) inches and are yellow with black striped markings. It differs in coloration from the eastern tiger swallowtail in that the black stripes are not continuous to the bottom.
Plants that Host the Canadian Swallowtail
The canadian swallowtail, like the tiger swallowtails, are generalists. They use members of a number of genera as hosts, primarily from members of the Birch Family (Betulaceae), Rose Family (Rosaceae), Willow Family (Salicaceae), and the Maple Family (Aceraceae). In the Grand Rapids, MI area these include:
- Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina): a tree
- Fire Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica): a shrub to tree
- Great Lakes Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila): a shrub
- Cultivated Apple (Malus pumila): a introduced tree
- Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides): a tree
- Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) a tree
- Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera): a tree
- White Ash (Fraxinus americana): a tree
Giant Swallowtail (Papilo cresphontes) and its host plants in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)
The giant swallowtail flies throughout the United States and southeast Canada, except for the northwest. Beyond North America it ranges into Central America and the Caribbean Islands. It is the largest butterfly in North America (Wikipedia). It has brownish-orange eggs that are laid on the host plants. The caterpillars have five stages or instars before pupating, which takes about two weeks. The adult butterflies have a wingspans ranging from about 5.5 inches (14 cm) to 7.5 inches (19.1 cm) and are black and yellow colored.
Plants that Host the Giant Swallowtail
The giant swallowtail is hosted by members of the Rue Family (Rutaceae), of which there are two primary plants in the Grand Rapids area. These include:
- Toothache tree (Zanthoxylum americanum) — a native tree near the northern limit of its range in Michigan in the area
- Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) — a small tree that is native just to the south but can be grown in the hardiness zone.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) and its host plants in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
The Eastern Tiger swallowtail flies in the mid-western and eastern United States from the Rocky Mountains and east. In the Eastern US it is likely one of the most distinctive swallowtails. The light green eggs are laid on the host plants. The caterpillar has five stages; with the first three a brown color and the last two as a green color. The brown chrysalis is placed in on trunks or on fallen leaves.
The adults have a wingspan of 3 inches (7.6 cm) to 5.5 inches (14 cm) and have two color schemes. The yellow and black is the most distinctive, but the females also have a dark black phase that mimics the pipevine swallowtail (see image).
Plants that Host the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The eastern tiger swallowtail is a generalist and uses members of a number of genera as host plants. Some species in the Grand Rapids area include:
- Members of the Prunus genus (Cherries and Plums)
- Members of the Betula genus (Birch)
- Members of the Populus genus (Poplar and Cottonwood)
- Members of the Fraxinus genus (Ash)
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and its host plants in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
The black swallowtail flies in most of the United States, except for the Northwest. The yellow eggs are laid on the host plants and take about a week to hatch. The caterpillars are at first black colored but later have green, black, and yellow coloring and last from a week to a month. The butterflies then survive the winter as a chrysalis.
The adults have a wingspan of 2.5 (6.4 cm) to 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) and are black colored with yellow spots along the wings and a red eyepsot near the tail on the top. The underside has orange spots.
Plants that Host the Black Swallowtail
The black swallowtail is a generalist and uses members of the carrot family as host plants. Some species in the Grand Rapids area include:
- Purple-stem Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea): a herbaceous plant
- Bulblet-bearing Water-Hemlock (Cicuta bulbifera): a herbaceous plant
- Spotted Water-Hemlock (Cicuta maculata): a herbaceous plant
- Canadian Honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis): a herbaceous plant
- Hairy Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii): a herbaceous plant
- Hemlock Water-Parsnip (Sium suave): a herbaceous plant
- Golden Alexander (Zizia aptera): a herbaceous plant
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilo troilus) and its host plants in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)
The spicebush swallowtail flies in the mid-western and eastern United States. The greenish eggs are laid on the leaves of spicebush. The caterpillars are brown at first but then turn yellow. The chrysalis is attached to leaves on the ground.
The adults have a wingspan of 3 inches (7.6 cm) to 4 inches (10.2 cm) and are black with white spots along the bottom and a red eyespot on the bottom middle.
Plants that Host the Spicebush Swallowtail
As the common name would suggest, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a host plant for the spicebush swallowtail as is the sassafras (Sassafras albidum), both of which are members of the Laurel Family (Lauraceae). Both of these species reach the northern limit of their range in the Grand Rapids region. The spicebush swallowtail only feeds on members of the Lauraceae (Scriber et al 2008).
Nectar Plants to Consider Putting in Your Garden
While the swallowtails need certain species of plants to use as hosts, the adults also need nectar plants to visit in order get nourishment. Nectar plants can also help other insects such as bees. Some common nectar plants that can be grown in the Grand Rapids, MI area include:
- Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
- Spotted Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium maculatum)
- Sweet Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
- Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) — Also benefit the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
- Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.)
- Coneflowers (Rudbeckia spp.)
- Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
- Devil’s-Bite (Liatris scariosa)
- Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus)
- Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) (Barrows 1977)
Frequently Asked Questions
How much land do I need to start a butterfly garden?
Every plant that you can grow can make a difference for visitors to your garden, especially in urban areas. Potted plants are also useful en masse for pollinators. When planting your garden, make sure you plant both the host plants and nectar plants for the adults to feed on.
Where should I get my plants?
For pollinators, it is best to have native plant species. The insects will be used to these plants more than ones from other places. Be sure you get your plants from a reputable nursery that does not use neocontinids that would harm visitors to your garden.
Are there gardens near me, where I can see an example of a butterfly garden?
There are several gardens in the Grand Rapids area that can be visited to get ideas for your butterfly garden. The include the:
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park: a garden that has native plant shade gardens and a wetland garden.
Michigan State – Kent Extension Grand Ideas Garden: a garden with examples of native plantings.
Calvin Ecosystem Preserve and Native Gardens: a nature preserve with native plant gardens.
Books where you can find out more about Butterfly Gardening in the Grand Rapids, MI Area
- Daniels, Jaret C. 2023. Butterflies of the Midwest Field Guide – Butterfly Identification Guides. Adventure Publications. 364 pp.
- Daniels, Jaret C. 2022. Garden Bugs & Insects of the Midwest: Identify Pollinators, Pests, and Other Garden Visitors – Adventure Quick Guides. Adventure Publications. 36 pp.
- Daniels, Jaret C. 2020. Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees, & Butterflies: Upper Midwest – Nature Friendly Gardens. Adventure Publications. 276 pp.
- Douglas, Matthew M. and Jonathan M. Douglas. 2005. Butterflies of the Great Lakes Region. University of Michigan Press. – A book you can borrow from the Internet Archive.
- Independence Television. 2018. Landscaping for Butterflies, Bees, and Clean Water. – A video on native plants and butterfly gardening that can be viewed on the Internet Archive.
- Miller, George Oxford. 2021. Backyard Science & Discovery Workbook Midwest: Fun Activities & Experiments That Get Kids Outdoors – Nature Science Workbooks for Kids. Adventure Publications. 112 pp.
- Steiner, Lynn M. 2008. Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan. MBI Publication Company. 192 pp.
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- Barrows, Edward M. 1977. Flower Biology and Anthropod Associates of Lilum philadelphicum. Michigan Botanist 18: 109-115.
- Monroe, James L. and David M. Wright. 2017. Butterflies of Pennsylvania. (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press). 304 pp.
- Scriber, Mark J., Michelle L. Larsen, and Myron P. Zalucki. 2008. Responses of North American Papilio troilus and P. glaucus to potential hosts from Australia. Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 62: 18-30.