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An Easy Butterfly Gardener’s Guide to Madison, WI Swallowtails

Madison, Wisconsin is the capital city of the state of Wisconsin in the United States. Located in south-central Wisconsin, Madison is located in plant hardiness zone 5. In this post we will talk about the six species of swallowtail butterflies (Papilinoidae) that you can host in your butterfly garden in Madison, Wisconsin.

Location of the Madison, Wisconsin Metro Area

Map of the state of Wisconsin with Madison metro area in red.
Madison, Wisconsin Metro in Red — User:Nyttend, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Madison, Wisconsin metro area is located in south-central Wisconsin and includes the counties of Columbia, Dane, and Iowa. For the purposes of this post we will discuss only Dane County as the Madison, Wisconsin area.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Madison, Wisconsin

2023 USDA plant hardiness zone map for the state of Wisconsin.
2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for Wisconsin — USDA Public Domain

Madison, Wisconsin is located in plant hardiness zone 5 and is at the edge of zones 5a and 5b, with zone 5a being more to the west and zone 5b being more the the east. When selecting plants you will want to get those that can handle temperatures as cold as -20F to be sure they will survive.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) and its host plants in Madison, Wisconsin

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

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

The pipevine swallowtail flies throughout the United States, except for the Pacific Northwest. In Wisconsin this species flies in July and is a stray from the south (Ferge 2011). However, unlike the spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus), it does have a host plant species in the area.

The pipevine swallowtail 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.

Plants that Host the Pipevine Swallowtail

The Pipevine Swallowtail is generally hosted by members of the birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae). In the Madison, WI area there is only one species, wild ginger (Asarum candense), in the birthwort family.

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 Madison, Wisconsin

Yellow of egg of giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) on a green leaf.
Egg of Giant Swallowtail — Anne Toal from US, CC BY 2.0
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
Brown chrysalis of giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) attached to a leaf.
Brown chrysalis of Giant Swallowtail — Ianaré Sévi, CC BY-SA 3.0
Adult of giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) butterfly on vegetation.
Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0

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). In Wisconsin, this butterfly has two broods, one in May and one in August (Ferge 2011).

The giant swallowtail 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 plants in the Madison, WI area. These include:

  • Toothache tree (Zanthoxylum americanum) — a small to medium sized tree
  • Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) — a rare small tree in Wisconsin that reaches the northern limit of its range in the Madison area.
Yellow flowers of hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) in a wooded area.
Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) — Mason Brock (Masebrock), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Toothache tree (Zanthoxylum americanum) in fruit.
Toothache Tree (Zanthoxylum americanum) — Krzysztof Golik, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) and its host plants in Madison, Wisconsin

Green egg of eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on a green leaf.
Egg of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) — USFWS, Public domain
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. In Wisconsin, this butterfly has two broods, one in May and one in August (Ferge 2011).

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 Madison, WI 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)
Close-up of white flowers of wild black cherry (Prunus serotina).
Flowers of Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) — Author Image
Tree of paper birch (Betula papyrifera).
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) — Laval University, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and its host plants in Madison, Wisconsin

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. In Wisconsin, this species flies from May to September (Ferge 2011).

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 examples of carrot family members in the Madison, WI area include:

  • Purple-stem Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea): a herbaceous plant
  • Canadian Honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis): a herbaceous plant
  • Hairy Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii): a herbaceous plant
  • Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis): a herbaceous plant
  • Stiff Cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior): a herbaceous plant (Williams 2003)
  • Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa): a herbaceous plant
  • Heart-leaf Alexander (Zizia aptera): a herbaceous plant
  • Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea): a herbaceous plant
Plant of purple-stem angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) in a wooded area.
Purple-Stem Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) — Laval University, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) in a wooded setting.
Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilo troilus) and its host plants in Madison, Wisconsin

Green caterpillar of spicebush swallowtail (Paplio troilus) on a twig.
Caterpillar of Spicebush Swallowtail — NCBioTeacher, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Light brown chrysalis of spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus).
Chrysalis of Spicebush Swallowtail — Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) on vegetation.
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) — Kaldari, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

The spicebush swallowtail flies in the mid-western and eastern United States. In the state of Wisconsin, this species is a stray (Ferge 2011) from the south and flies from June to July.

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). Neither of these plant species are found in the Madison, WI area (though they can live there) and the spicebush swallowtail only feeds on members of the Lauraceae (Scriber et al 2008). However, since this species is more common in the south and is likely seeking more northern locations due to climate change, this species could likely be hosted when it visits the area.

Shrub of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) in a park.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) — Dan Keck from Ohio, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Leaf of sassafras (Sassafras albidum).
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) — Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) and its host plants in Madison, Wisconsin

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 Wisconsin this butterfly flies from June to August and is stray (Ferge 2011). In addition there are currently no host plants for this species 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 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 (animaldiversity.org).

Plants that Host the Zebra Swallowtail

The zebra swallowtail uses members of the Custard Apple Family (Annonaceae) as host plants. Currently there are no members of this family in the Madison area. However, one of the main host plants, pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is present to the south and can exist up to plant hardiness zone 5.

Brownish flower of pawpaw (Asimina triloba).
Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) — Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nectar Plants to Consider Putting in Your Garden

Sweet joe-pye-weed (Eutrochium maculatum) in a garden.
Spotted Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) — Author Image

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 Madison, WI area include:

  • Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
  • Joe-Pye-Weeds (Eutrochium spp.)
  • Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) — Also benefit the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
  • Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.)
  • Coneflowers (Rudbeckia spp.)
  • Blazing Stars (Liatris spp.)

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 are several gardens in the Madison, Wisconsin area that can be visited in order to get ideas for your Butterfly Garden. These include the:

Olbrich Botanical Gardens: contains numerous examples of native plant gardens.

University of Wisconsin Arboretum: an arboretum with a Wisconsin Native Plant Garden.

University of Wisconsin Botany Garden and Greenhouse: a garden where you can see plantings according to phylogenetic order.

Books where you can find out more about Butterfly Gardening in the Madison, WI Area

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References

  • Ferge, Leslie A. 2011. Checklist of Wisconsin Butterflies. Wisconsin Entomological Society Special Publication No. 5.
  • 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.
  • Williams, Andrew H. 2003. Oxypolis rigidior, A New Larval Food Plant Record for Papilio polyxenes (Papilionidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 57(2): 149-150.
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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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