Table of Contents for Swallowtail Butterflies and Host Plants in Norfolk, VA
The Norfolk, Virginia metro area is located along the coast of Virginia in the southeastern part of the state. The city itself is located in Zone 8, while the outlying areas located in zone 7. In the Norfolk area, there are seven species of Swallowtail butterflies that you can host in your garden.
Location of the Norfolk, Virginia Metro Area
The Norfolk, Virginia metro area covers southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Norfolk, Virginia
The Norfolk, Virginia metro area is located primarily in Zone 8a. The outlying areas are within zone 7b. When selecting plants you will want to get those that can handle temperatures as cold as +5F to be sure they will survive.
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) and its host plants in Norfolk, Virginia
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 (7 cm) to 5 inches (13 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 Norfolk, but could be planted here. One plant native in the Norfolk, Virginia area that hosts this butterfly is:
- Virginia Snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria): a herbaceous plant. This plant is also known commonly as Aristolochia serpentaria.
Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) and its host plants in Norfolk, Virginia
Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium 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 (animaldiversity.org).
Plants that Host the Zebra Swallowtail
The zebra swallowtail uses members of the Custard Apple Family (Annonaceae) as host plants. In the Norfolk area, pawpaw (Asimina triloba), an understory tree, is used as a host.
Giant Swallowtail (Papilo cresphontes) and its host plants in Norfolk, Virginia
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 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 three primary plants in the Norfolk area. These include:
- Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) — a small native tree in the outlying areas.
- Hercule’s-Club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) — a small tree that is native and rare in the area.
- Hardy orange (Citrus trifoliata) — an introduced shrub to small tree that is in the outlying areas.
- Common Rue (Ruta graveolens) — an introduced herbaceous plant that can be grown in the area.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) and its host plants in Norfolk, Virginia
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 (7.5 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). Generally there are two broods in Pennsylvania (Monroe and Wright 2017).
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 Norfolk, Virginia area include:
Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) and its host plants in Norfolk, Virginia
Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)
The Palamedes swallowtail flies generally in the coastal plain of the east and gulf coasts of the United States. The light greenish-yellow eggs are laid on the host plants. The caterpillar is brown and has smaller eyespots than that of the spicebush swallowtail. The brown chrysalis is placed in on trunks or on fallen leaves.
The adults have a wingspan of 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) to 5.25 inches (13.25 cm) and are black with whitish-yellow to yellow spots on the upperside of the wing. The underside is more prominently yellow with blue markings. Generally there are two broods per year.
One source says the palamedes swallowtail is the most abundant swallowtail in the Dismal Swamp area (Clark 1936).
Plants that Host the Palamedes Swallowtail
The palamedes swallowtail, like the spicebush swallowtail, uses members of the Laurel Family (Lauraceae) as host plants. Some species in Norfolk, Virginia area include:
- Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
- Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
- Swampbay (Persea palustris)
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and its host plants in Norfolk, Virginia
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 (7 cm) to 3.5 inches (8.5 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 three broods and flies till early October (Clark 1938).
Plants that Host the Black Swallowtail
Members of the Apiaceae (Carrot Family)
The black swallowtail is a generalist and uses members of the carrot family (Apiaceae) as host plants. Some examples of carrot family members in Norfolk include:
- Hairy Angelica (Angelica venosa): a herbaceous plant
- Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata): a herbaceous plant
- Hemlock Water-Parsnip (Sium suave): a herbacous plant
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): an introduced herbaceous plant which was found to be the primary host plant for this species on the eastern shore of Virginia (Dombrowski and Mills 1996).
- Herbwilliam (Ptilimnium capillaceum): a herbaceous plant
- Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis): a herbaceous plant (native in outlying areas)
- Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea): a herbaceous plant (native in outlying areas)
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilo troilus) and its host plants in Norfolk, Virginia
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 are found in the Norfolk area and the spicebush swallowtail only feeds on members of the Lauraceae (Scriber et al 2008).
- Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) — An understory tree
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 Norfolk, VA area include:
- Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
- Joe-Pye-Weeds (Eutrochium spp.)
- Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) — Also benefit the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
- Coastal Sweet-Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
- 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 Norfolk Area that can be visited in order to get ideas for your Butterfly Garden. These include the:
Norfolk Botanical Garden: The largest botanical garden in Virginia, has a butterfly garden and a butterfly house.
Tidewater Arboretum: Located in Virginia Beach, Va this arboretum shows various plants that are available in the nursery trade.
Chesapeake Arboretum: Demonstration garden located in Chesapeake, Va.
Williamsburg Botanical Garden: A garden near Norfolk in Williamsburg that shows pollinator plants and their associated wildlife.
Books where you can find out more about Butterfly Gardening in the Norfolk, VA Area
- Daniels, Jaret C. 2022. Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies. Southeast – Nature Friendly Gardens. 276 pp.
- Kavanagh, James. 2020. Virginia Butterflies and Pollinators: a Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species. Waterford Press, Inc.
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- Clark, Austin Hobart and Leila F. Clark. 1938. Notes on Virginia Butterflies. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 51: 177-181.
- Clark, Austin Hobart and Leila F. Clark. 1936. Some butterflies of eastern Virginia. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 26: 66-70.
- Dombrowski, Daniel S. and Richard R. Mills. 1996. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), primary host plant for the eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius) (Papilionidae) on the eastern shore of Virginia. Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 50: 87-89.
- 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 Lepidopterists’ Scoiety 62: 18-30.