Skip to content

An Easy Butterfly Gardener’s Guide to Wausau, WI Swallowtail Butterflies

Imagine the gentle flutter of swallowtail butterflies with delicate wings flitting between vibrant wildflowers, painting the air with bursts of yellow and black. If you plant a butterfly garden in Wausau, Wisconsin you can turn your yard into a butterfly nirvana. This guide will help you determine what plants will do best in Wausau and will show of the species known to be your area.

Wausau, Wisconsin is located in central Wisconsin in the United States. Wausau is located at the edge of USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 and 5. Central Marathon County is in zone 5, while the rest of the county is in zone 4. In the Wausau area, there are five species of swallowtail butterflies that you can host in your butterfly garden. In the future, another species, the spicebush swallowtail, may be able to be attracted here.

Location of Wausau, WI and Marathon County

Marathon county, Wisconsin in red.
Marathon County, Wisonsin (in Red) — User:Nyttend, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Wausau area as covered in this post covers Marathon County in Wisconsin. The list of swallowtail species includes those that occur in this county, nearby to it and one that potentially could stray into the county in the future.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Wausau, Wisconsin

2023 USDA plant hardiness zone map for the state of Wisconsin.
USDA Public Domain

Wausau, Wisconsin is located at the edge of zone 5a and 4b. The central part of Marathon County is located in zone 5a, while the rest of the county is in zone 4b. When selecting plants you will want to get those that can handle temperatures as cold as -250F to be sure they will survive.

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

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
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) on a yellow goldenrod plant.
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

The pipevine swallowtail flies through the United States, except for the Pacific Northwest. In the Wausau, Wisconsin area this butterfly is sometimes a stray from the southern part of the state. Currently it can best be helped with nectar plants, but in the future having host plants for it that survive in the hardiness zone will help it as it moves north with climate change warming.

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. The later season caterpillars overwinter as a pupa (Monroe and Wright 2017). The pupa then overwinters to emerge in the spring.

In the spring to summer the adult butterflies start to fly. They have a wingspan of 2.5 in (6.4 cm) to 5 in (12.7 cm) and 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 Wausau, WI, wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is only species that is native to the area.

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

Canadian Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) and its host plants in Wausau, Wisconsin

Brown caterpillar of canadian swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) on log.
Brown Caterpillar of Canadian Swallowtail — Sherby71, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Green caterpillar of canadian Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis).
Caterpillar of Canadian Swallowtail — Cephas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Adult Canadian Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) on a leaf.
Canadian Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) — Cephas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Adult canadian swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) with folded wings.
Canadian Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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 late spring to early summer (May to July) (McCabe and Post 1976) the adult butterflies start to fly in North Dakota and it is likely similar in Wisconsin. The adults 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 Wausau, WI area these include:

  • Members of the Prunus genus: shrubs and trees
  • Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides): a tree
  • Members of the Betula genus: shrubs or trees
  • Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica): a tree
Autumn foliage on quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides).
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) — Satsuuma, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Leaves and flowers of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) — Laval University, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) and its host plants in Wausau, 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, 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).

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 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 Rue Family (Rutaceae), of which there is one primary plant in the Wausau area, the toothache tree.

  • Toothache tree (Zanthoxylum americanum) — a native tree in Wisconsin.
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 Wausau, Wisconsin

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 butterfly often flies from May to September in North Dakota (McCabe and Post 1976) and is likely similar in Wisconsin.

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 Wausau, 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
Autumn foliage on quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides).
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) — Satsuuma, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and its host plants in Wausau, 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.

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. It flies from May to September in North Dakota (McCabe and Post 1976) and is likely similar in Wisconsin.

Plants that Host the Black Swallowtail

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

  • Purple-Stem Angeica (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
  • American Cow-Parsnip (Heracleum maximum): a herbaceous plant
  • Hairy Sweet-Cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii): a herbaceous plant
  • Hemlock Water-Parsnip (Sium suave): 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, via Wikimedia Commons
White flowers of american cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum).
American cow-parsnip (Heracleum maximum) — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Note: The Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) in the future may stray into the Wausau area. Its main host plants, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum), do not occur in the area. However, both of these species can handle plant hardiness zones 4-9. Wausau and central Marathon County are located in zone 5 and may go higher in the future giving a buffer to cold snaps. A study by Scriber, et al 2008 found that spicebush swallowtail feeds exclusively on members of the Lauraceae.

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 Wausau, WI area include:

  • Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) — Also benefit the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
  • Spotted Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium maculatum)
  • Sweet-scented Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
  • Giant Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus)
  • Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) (Barrows 1977)
  • Tall Gayfeather (Liatris aspera)
  • Coneflowers (Rudbeckia spp.)
  • Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
  • American-Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.)
  • Prairie Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)

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?

Monk Botanical Gardens: a garden in Wausau, WI that has a butterfly garden planned as part of its gardens.

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

Affiliate Disclosure: When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate programs include, but are not limited to, the eBay Partner Network and Blackwell’s Books.

References

  • Barrows, Edward M. 1977. Flower Biology and Anthropod Associates of Lilum philadelphicum. Michigan Botanist 18: 109-115.
  • McCabe, Timothy L. and Richard L. Post. 1976. North Dakota Butterfly Calendar. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 15(2): 93-99.
  • 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.
Share this post on social!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

four × three =

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.

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.