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An Easy Butterfly Gardener’s Guide to Orlando, FL Swallowtails and their Host Plants

Table of Contents for Swallowtail Butterflies and Host Plants in Orlando, FL

The Orlando, FL metro area is located in the center of Florida. The city itself is located in Zone 9b, while the northern outlying areas are located in zone 9a. In the Orlando area, there are seven species of Swallowtail butterflies that you can host in your garden.

Location of the Orlando, Florida Metro Area

Map of Greater Orlando, Florida area.
Map of Orlando, FL Metro Area — TyNoOutlet, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Orlando, Florida metro area is located in central Florida between Tampa, Florida and Daytona Beach, Florida.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Orlando, Florida

Map of USDA hardiness zones in the state of Florida, USA.
Florida Plant Hardiness Zones — USDA Public Domain

The Orlando, Florida metro area is located primarily in Zone 9b. The northern edges are located in zone 9a. 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 Orlando, Florida

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 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 Orlando, and it is outside of its hardiness zone. One plant native in the Orlando, Florida area that hosts this butterfly is:

  • Virginia Snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria): a herbaceous plant. This plant is also known commonly as Aristolochia serpentaria.
Plant of virginia snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria) in a wooded area.
Virginia Snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria) — Eric Hunt, via Wikimedia Commons
Vegetative pipevine (Isotrema macrophyllum) on the ground.
Pipevine (Isotrema macrophyllum) — Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Polydamas Swallowtail (Battus polydamas) and its host plants in Orlando, Florida

Orange eggs of polydamas swallowtail (Battus polydamas).
Battus polydamas (Linnaeus, 1758) observed in Argentina by Rodrigo Cesáreo Pampin (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Brown caterpillar of polydamas swallotail (Battus polydamas) on vegetation.
Caterpillar of Polydamas Swallowtail — Battus polydamas (Linnaeus, 1758) observed in United States of America by Karen Guin (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Brown chrysalis of polydamas swallowtail (Battus polydamas).
Chrysalis — Battus polydamas (Linnaeus, 1758) observed in Argentina by Rodrigo Cesáreo Pampin (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Black adult polydamas swallowtail (Battus polydamas) on vegetation.
Polydamas Swallowtail (Battus polydamas) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Polydamas Swallowtail (Battus polydamas)

The polydamas swallowtail flies in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California as well as Central and South America. It has yellow to orange eggs that are laid on new grwoth of the host plant. The black to brown caterpillar with yellow tubercles comes out in the spring and has four stages lasting about 2 to 3 weeks. The chrysalis is green to brown, which looks like a leaf, lasts for about 2 weeks.

The adults have a wingspan of 3.5 inches (9 cm) to 5 inches (13 cm) and are black colored with yellow markings along the bottom. This is the only swallowtail in the United States without a tail (University of Florida – Featured Creatures). In Florida, this butterfly can have many flights.

Plants that Host the Polydamas Swallowtail

The Polydamas Swallowtail, like the pipevine swallowtail, in the same genus, is generally hosted by members of the birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae). There is one plant is native in the Orlando, Florida area that hosts this butterfly:

  • Virginia Snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria): a herbaceous plant. This plant is also known commonly as Aristolochia serpentaria.
Plant of virginia snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria) in a wooded area.
Virginia Snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria) — Eric Hunt, via Wikimedia Commons

Another plant that has been introduced, elegant dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia elegans) has also been shown to host this butterfly (Minno 1992).

Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) and its host plants in Orlando, Florida

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. 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 to 4.5 inches 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 Orlando area, there are several pawpaws (Asimina spp.) that are used as hosts. In the outlying areas towards the Atlantic Coast and south a pond-apple (Annona glabra) can be used as a host.

  • Woolly Pawpaw (Asimina incana): a shrub
  • Big-Flower Pawpaw (Asimina obovata) (Minno 1992): a shrub or small tree
  • Small-flower Pawpaw (Asimina parviflora): a shrub
  • Dwarf Pawpaw (Asimina pygmea): a shrub
  • Netted Pawpaw (Asimina reticulata): a shrub
Plant of woolly pawpaw (Asimina incana) with white flowers.
Plant of Woolly Pawpaw — Asimina incana (W.Bartram) Exell observed in United States of America by Siddarth Machado (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Giant Swallowtail (Papilo cresphontes) and its host plants in Orlando, Florida

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 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 two primary species and one genus in the Orlando area. These include:

  • Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) — a small native tree
  • Hercule’s-Club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) — a small tree that is native to the area.
  • Members of the Citrus genus (Minno 1992) — various shrubs and trees
Whitish-green flowers of hercules club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis).
Hercules’ Club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) — Eric Hunt, 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 Orlando, Florida

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 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).

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 Orlando, FL area include:

Close-up of white flowers of wild black cherry (Prunus serotina).
Flowers of Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) — Author Image
Flower of tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) with leaves.
Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) — Rob Hille, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) and its host plants in Orlando, Florida

Brown caterpillar of the palamedes swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) on a leaf.
Brown Caterpillar — Papilio palamedes Drury, 1773 observed in United States of America by David George (licensed under CC BY 4.0).
Chrysalis of palamedes swallowtail (Papilio palamedes).
Chrysali of Palamedes Swallowtail — S.G.S., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Palamedes swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) on purple flower.
Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) — James Leon Young, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Palamedes swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) on vegetation.
Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) — Renee from Las Vegas, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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 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.

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 Orlando, Florida area include:

  • Red Bay (Persea borbonia) (Scriber, et al 2000): a small tree
  • Silk Bay (Persea humilis): a shrub or tree
  • Swampbay (Persea palustris): a small tree
  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum): a tree
Tree of red bay (Persea borbonia) in a garden.
Red Bay (Persea borbonia) — Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Swampbay (Persea palustris) at the edge of the woods.
Swampbay (Persea palustris) — Scott Allen Davis, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and its host plants in Orlando, Florida

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 (7cm) to 3.5 inches (8.5cm) 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 Orlando include:

  • Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata): a herbaceous plant
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): an introduced herbaceous plant
  • Rattlesnake-Master (Eryngium aquaticum): a herbaceous plant
  • Button Eryngo (Eryngium yuccifolium): a herbaceous plant
  • Herbwilliam (Ptilimnium capillaceum): a herbaceous plant
Plant of spotted water-hemlock (Cicuta maculata).
Spotted Water-Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) — Williammehlhorn at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Lavender flowers of rattlesnake-master (Eryngium aquaticum)
Rattlesnake-Master — L. observed in United States of America by mfeaver (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilo troilus) and its host plants in Orlando, Florida

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. 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 (10.1 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). However, spicebush is not native to Orlando. But the spicebush swallowtail only feeds on members of the Lauraceae (Scriber et al 2008) and there are other species such the bays (Persea). However, only the more southern butterflies seem to be able to survive on Persea (Scriber, et al 2000).

  • Red Bay (Persea borbonia): a small tree
  • Silk Bay (Persea humilis): a shrub or tree
  • Swampbay (Persea palustris): a small tree
  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) — An understory tree
Vegetative plant of silk bay (Persea humilis).
Silk Bay — Persea humilis Nash observed in United States of America by Daniel Estabrooks (licensed under CC0)
Leaf of sassafras (Sassafras albidum).
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) — Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0

Nectar Plants to Consider Putting in Your Garden

Blazing star (Liatris spicata) with bumblebee in McMullen House garden.
Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) — Robert Coxe, Image

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 Orlando, Florida area include:

  • Goldenrods (Solidago spp.): a genus of herbaceous plants
  • Trumpetweed (Eutrochium fistulosum): a herbaceous plant
  • Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) — Also benefit the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus): a genus of herbaceous plants
  • Coastal Sweet-Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia): a shrub
  • Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.): a genus of herbaceous plants
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): a herbaceous plant
  • Blazing Stars (Liatris spp.): a genus of herbaceous plants
  • Blood Sage (Salvia coccinea) (Minno 1992): a herbaceous plant
  • Carolina Redroot (Lachnanthes caroliniana) (Minno 1992): a herbaceous plant
  • Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii) (Minno 1992): a herbaceous plant

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 Orlando area that can be visited in order to get ideas for your Butterfly Garden. These include the:

Leu Gardens: Has a number of different gardens including a butterfly garden.

Mead Botanical Garden: A garden in Winter Park, Florida that has a butterfly garden.

Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens: Zoo in Sanford, Florida that has a butterfly garden.

University of Central Florida Arboretum: Arboretum in Orlando that has a pollinator garden.

Books where you can find out more about Butterfly Gardening in the Orlando, FL Area

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References

  • Minno, Marc C. 1992. Butterflies of the Archbold Biological Station, Highlands County, Florida. Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 46: 138-158.
  • 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.
  • Scriber, J. Mark, Nicolas Margraf, and Tammy Wells. 2000. Suitability of Four Families of Florida “Bay” Species For Papilio palamedes and P. glaucus (Papilionidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 54(4): 131-136.
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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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