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An Easy Butterfly Gardener’s Guide to Cedar Rapids, IA Swallowtails

The Cedar Rapids, IA area is located in east-central Iowa in the United States. The City of Cedar Rapids is located in zone 5b, while the outlying areas in Linn County are located in zone 5a. There are five species of swallowtail butterflies that you can host in your garden in Cedar Rapids.

Location of the Cedar Rapids, IA Area

Map of Iowa with red dot showing location of Cedar Rapids, IA.
Map with red dot showing Cedar Rapids, IA — The original uploader was Seth Ilys at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cedar Rapids, IA area is located in east-central Iowa in Linn County. The purposes of this post we will be discussing those swallowtails known to occur in Linn County.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Cedar Rapids, IA

2023 map of USDA plant hardiness zones in the state of Iowa.
2023 Map of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Iowa — USDA Public Domain

The City of Cedar Rapids, IA is primarily located in zone 5b. Just outside Cedar Rapids in Linn County is zone 5a. When selecting plants you will want to get those that can handle temperatures as cold as -20F to be sure they will survive, even though it may be warmer in Cedar Rapids itself.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) and its host plants in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Eggs of pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) on a plant.
Eggs of Pipevine Swallowtail — Insects Unlocked, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Caterpillar of the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) on the ground.
Caterpillar of Pipevine Swallowtail — Insects Unlocked, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) on a yellow goldenrod plant.
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, Wikimedia Commons
Brown chrysalis of pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) on a twig.
Brown chrysalis of pipevine swallowtail — Meganmccarty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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 in (6.4 cm) to 5 in (12.7 cm) inches and are black colored with white markings.

Plants that Host the Pipevine Swallowtail

The Pipevine Swallowtail is generally hosted by members of the birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae). Note the pipevine (Isotrema macrophyllum), the namesake of the butterfly, does not occur natively in the Cedar Rapids area, and it is outside of its hardiness zone. One plant native in the Cedar Rapids, IA area that hosts this butterfly is:

  • Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense): a herbaceous plant.
Brown flower of wild ginger (Asarum canadense).
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) — English: NPS Staff, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Giant Swallowtail (Papilo cresphontes) and its host plants in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Yellow of egg of giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) on a green leaf.
Egg of Giant Swallowtail — Anne Toal from US, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Brownish-black caterpillar of giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) on a leaf.
Caterpillar of Giant Swallowtail — Aaron Carlson from Menomonie, WI, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wkimedia Commons
Brown chrysalis of giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) attached to a leaf.
Brown chrysalis of Giant Swallowtail — Ianaré Sévi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Adult of giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) butterfly on vegetation.
Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wkimedia Commons

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 in (14 cm) to 7.5 in (19.1 cm) and are black and yellow colored.

Plants that Host the Giant Swallowtail

The Giant Swallowtail is hosted by members of the Rutaceae, of which there are two primary species in the Cedar Rapids area. These include:

  • Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) — a small native tree
  • Toothache Tree (Zanthoxylum americanum) — a small tree that is native to the area.
Toothache tree (Zanthoxylum americanum) in fruit.
Toothache Tree (Zanthoxylum americanum) — Krzysztof Golik, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Yellow flowers of hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) in a wooded area.
Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) — Mason Brock (Masebrock), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) and its host plants in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Green egg of eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on a green leaf.
Egg of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) — USFWS, Public domain, via WIkimedia Commons
Brown caterpillar of eastern tiger swallowtail on green leaf.
Brown Caterpillar of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail — Jim Conrad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Green caterpillar of eastern tiger swallowtail on green leaf.
Green Caterpillar of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail — Jacy Lucier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern tiger swallowtail on flower.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail — Shenandoah National Park from Virginia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Black form of eastern tiger swallowtail on vegetation.
Female Black Form of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail — Shenandoah National Park from Virginia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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 in (7.6 cm) to 5.5 in (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). This species has up to two broods in Nebraska, one in the spring and one in the summer (Johnson 1972) and may be similar in Iowa.

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 that are generally shrubs and trees. Some species in the Cedar Rapids, IA area include:

  • Speckled Alder (Alnus incana): a shrub to tree
  • River Birch (Betula nigra): a tree
  • White Ash (Fraxinus americana): a tree
  • Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra): a tree
  • Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica): a tree
  • Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera): a tree
  • Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides): a tree
  • Members of the Prunus genus (Cherries and Plums): shrubs and trees
  • American Basswood (Tilia americana): a medium to large tree
Leaves and flowers of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) — Laval University, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Leaves of american basswood (Tilia americana) in a garden.
Leaves of American Basswood (Tilia americana) — Dan Keck from Ohio, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and its host plants in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Black and white caterpillar of black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on vegetation.
Black and White Caterpillar of Black Swallowtail — Inklet Arts, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Green and yellow caterpillar of black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).
Caterpillar of Black Swallowtail — NCBioTeacher, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Greenish-brown chrysalis of black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).
Chrysalis of Black Swallowtail — Photo by and (c)2009 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man), GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons
Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on fence.
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) — Kaldari, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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 in (6.4 cm) to 3.5 in (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. This butterfly may have up to two broods in Nebraska, in May and in mid-July (Johnson 1972) and may be similar in Iowa.

Plants that Host the Black Swallowtail

The black swallowtail is a generalist and uses members of the carrot family (Apiaceae) as host plants. Some examples of carrot family members in Cedar Rapids include:

  • Spreading Chervil (Chaerophyllum procumbens): a herbaceous plant
  • Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata): a herbaceous plant
  • Canadian Honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis): a herbacous plant
  • Button Eryngo (Eryngium yuccifolium): a herbaceous plant
  • American Cow-Parsnip (Heracleum maximum): a herbaceous plant
  • Hairy Sweet-Cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii): a herbaceous plant
  • Canadian Black-snakeroot (Sanicula canadensis): a herbaceous plant
  • Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea): a herbaceous plant
White flowers of american cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum).
American cow-parsnip (Heracleum maximum) — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Yellow flowers of golden alexander (Zizia aurea).
Flowers of Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) and its host plants in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Eggs of zebra swallowtail (Neographium marcellus).
Zebra Swallowtail Eggs — Megan McCarty, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Caterpillar of zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) on leaf.
Caterpillar of Zebra Swallowtail — Meganmccarty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) on purple flower.
Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) — Megan McCarty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus)

The zebra swallowtail flies in the mid-western and eastern United States. In the Cedar Rapids area, this butterfly is a stray from the south as the host plant is not in the area.

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 colder climates (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. They have two broods, an early season brood that can be smaller and has a shorter tail and a later summer brood that is larger and has a long tail (animaldiversity.org). In Iowa, the first brood is much more common (Insects of Iowa).

Plants that Host the Zebra Swallowtail

The zebra swallowtail uses members of the Custard Apple Family (Annonaceae) as host plants. In the Cedar Rapids area, there are no members of this family present.

Nectar Plants to Consider Putting in Your Garden

Purple flowers of meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis).
Flowers of Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis) — English: NPS Staff, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While the swallowtails need certain species of plants to use as hosts, the adults also need nectar plants to visit in order to get nourishment. Nectar plants can also help other insects such as bees. Some common nectar plants that can be grown in the Cedar Rapids, IA area include:

  • Goldenrods (Solidago spp.): a genus of herbaceous plants
  • Spotted Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium maculatum): a herbaceous plant
  • Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) — Also benefit the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus): a genus of herbaceous plants
  • Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.): a genus of herbaceous plants
  • Coneflowers (Rudbeckia spp.): a herbaceous plant
  • Blazing Stars (Liatris spp.): a genus of herbaceous plants

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 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 is one garden somewhat near the Cedar Rapids area in Waterloo, IA that can be visited in order to get ideas for your Butterfly Garden. It is the:

Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanical Gardens: a botanical garden with numerous gardens including a butterfly conservation meadow.

Books where you can find out more about Butterfly Gardening in the Cedar Rapids, IA Area

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References

  • Johnson, Kurt. 1972. The Butterflies of Nebraska. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 11(1): 5-64.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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