Are you interested in attracting the majestic giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) to your garden? One of the key factors in successfully attracting these beautiful butterflies is providing suitable host plants. Unlike some other butterfly species, giant swallowtails can lay their eggs on a variety of plants, giving you multiple options to choose from.

Host plants play a crucial role in the life cycle of the giant swallowtail butterfly. They are not only where the adults lay their eggs but also serve as the sole food source for the caterpillars. By planting the right host plants, you can create a thriving environment that supports the complete life cycle of these fascinating creatures.

Plants suitable for giant swallowtail caterpillars include Ruta Graveolens (common rue), Ptelea trifoliata (wafer ash or hop tree), and Zanthoxylum americanum (northern prickly ash). These plants provide essential nutrients for the caterpillars to grow and transform into beautiful butterflies.

When searching for eggs or caterpillars, keep in mind that the eggs of giant swallowtails are easily distinguishable due to their orange-peel color. The larvae, or caterpillars, of giant swallowtails have a unique defense mechanism that resembles bird droppings, which helps protect them from predators.

To successfully raise giant swallowtail butterflies, ensure you have a suitable environment for pupation. This can be on the host plants themselves or within a butterfly enclosure. Finally, stay patient as you witness the emergence of adult giant swallowtails with their vibrant yellow markings and delicate wings.

To attract giant swallowtails to your garden, offer not only suitable host plants but also nectar sources. By providing a variety of nectar-rich flowers, you can create a butterfly garden that attracts and sustains these beautiful creatures.

Key Takeaways

  • Choose suitable host plants such as Ruta Graveolens, Ptelea trifoliata, and Zanthoxylum americanum to attract giant swallowtail caterpillars.
  • Keep an eye out for the distinctive orange-peel colored eggs of giant swallowtails.
  • Giant swallowtail larvae have a unique defense mechanism that resembles bird droppings.
  • Create a suitable pupation environment by providing host plants or a butterfly enclosure.
  • Attract adult giant swallowtails by offering nectar-rich flowers in your garden.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Basics

Giant swallowtail butterfly

The giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) is a magnificent species, known as the largest butterfly in North America. With an impressive wingspan ranging from 4 to 6¼ inches, this butterfly never fails to capture our attention.

The life cycle of the giant swallowtail consists of three stages: eggs, larvae (caterpillars), and adults. The female butterfly carefully selects host plants to lay her eggs on. These host plants include citrus trees, prickly ash, and common rue. The eggs are typically orange-peel in color, making them relatively easy to spot.

After hatching from the eggs, the caterpillars go through a growth phase that lasts approximately three to four weeks. During this time, they voraciously feed on the host plants, consuming the leaves to support their development. It’s fascinating to observe how the caterpillars use their unique defense mechanism, resembling bird droppings, to deter predators.

Once the caterpillar stage is complete, the pupation stage begins, during which the caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis. The chrysalis, also known as a pupa, serves as a protective cover for the developing butterfly. This stage takes place either on the host plant or within a butterfly enclosure.

Finally, after the pupation period, the adult giant swallowtail butterfly emerges, revealing its striking wings adorned with vibrant yellow markings. The adult butterflies have a relatively short lifespan, typically living for only one to two weeks.

Giant swallowtails are predominantly found in the southeast United States, particularly in Florida. Their habitat ranges from citrus tree groves to diverse ecosystems, extending to other regions along the Gulf Coast and as far north as the Great Lakes region.

Creating a garden with native plants can provide an ideal environment for giant swallowtails. By including suitable host plants and nectar sources, you can attract and support these magnificent butterflies throughout their life cycle.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Basics
Scientific NamePapilio cresphontes
Wingspan4 to 6¼ inches
Life CycleEggs → Larvae (Caterpillars) → Adults
Host PlantsCitrus trees, prickly ash, common rue
Lifespan1 to 2 weeks (adults)
HabitatSoutheast United States, particularly Florida
DistributionGulf Coast, Great Lakes region

Understanding the basics of the giant swallowtail butterfly and their unique life cycle can deepen our appreciation for these enchanting creatures. By providing a welcoming habitat in our gardens, we can contribute to their conservation and delight in their graceful presence.

Host Plants and Nectar Sources

The giant swallowtail butterfly is particularly attracted to plants in the citrus family. These include:

  • Citrus trees
  • Wild lime
  • Hercules club

In addition to citrus plants, giant swallowtails also favor the following host plants:

  • Milkweed
  • Torchwood
  • Photinia

Native trees such as the tulip tree and prickly ash are also important host plants for the giant swallowtail butterfly.

When it comes to providing nectar sources for adult swallowtails, consider planting flowers such as:

  • Butterfly bush
  • Lantana
  • Joe-Pye weed
  • Zinnias

These flowers not only attract adult swallowtails but also provide nectar for other pollinators in your garden. By incorporating these plants into your outdoor space, you can create a vibrant habitat that sustains giant swallowtails throughout their life cycle.

Citrus FamilyNative TreesFlowers
Citrus treesTulip treeButterfly bush
Wild limePrickly ashLantana
Hercules clubJoe-Pye weed

Other Swallowtail Species and Their Host Plants

Swallowtail butterflies come in various species, each with its own unique host plants for their caterpillars. By understanding the specific host plants, you can attract a diverse range of these beautiful butterflies to your garden.

Black Swallowtail

The black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is a stunning butterfly species that feeds on herbs from the Apiaceae family. This includes popular culinary herbs such as dill, parsley, and fennel. By planting these herbs in your garden, you can provide a valuable food source for black swallowtail caterpillars.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

The Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is one of the most recognizable butterflies in North America. Its caterpillars have a diverse range of host plants, including ash trees, cottonwoods, tulip poplars, and cherry trees. Incorporating these trees into your garden can attract Eastern tiger swallowtails.

Spicebush Swallowtail

The spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) is known for its beautiful green wings and striking blue markings. Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars primarily feed on the spicebush plant (Lindera benzoin) and other trees like camphor and sweet bay. Including these plants in your garden will attract spicebush swallowtails.

Pipevine Swallowtail

The pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) is named after its host plant, which belongs to the Aristolochiaceae family. These butterflies rely on pipevines (Aristolochia spp.) and hoptrees (Ptelea spp.) as their primary host plants. By cultivating these plants, you can encourage the presence of pipevine swallowtails.

Zebra Swallowtail

The zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) is a striking butterfly with black and white patterns resembling a zebra’s stripes. Pawpaw plants (Asimina spp.) are vital host plants for zebra swallowtail caterpillars. Adding pawpaw trees to your garden will help attract and support these unique butterflies.

By incorporating a variety of host plants suitable for different swallowtail species, you can create a diverse and vibrant butterfly garden. It’s important to provide adequate food sources for caterpillars to support their life cycle and ensure the presence of these magnificent butterflies in your outdoor space.

Swallowtail SpeciesHost Plants
Black SwallowtailDill, parsley, fennel
Eastern Tiger SwallowtailAsh trees, cottonwoods, tulip poplars, cherry trees
Spicebush SwallowtailSpicebush, camphor, sweet bay
Pipevine SwallowtailPipevines, hoptrees
Zebra SwallowtailPawpaw plants


Creating a butterfly-friendly environment in your garden is key to attracting swallowtails and supporting their survival. By planting suitable host plants and providing nectar sources, you can make your garden a haven for these beautiful butterflies.

When selecting plants, opt for native species that swallowtails naturally gravitate towards. This not only benefits the butterflies but also contributes to a balanced garden ecosystem. In addition, reducing pesticide use is crucial for their well-being, as these chemicals can harm swallowtails and other beneficial insects.

To further enhance your garden habitat, consider incorporating features that provide protection and shelter for swallowtails. This can include adding cover such as shrubs or tall grasses, creating water sources like birdbaths or shallow dishes, and ensuring suitable shelter for the butterflies to roost and rest.

By following these guidelines, you can not only enjoy the beauty of swallowtails fluttering around your garden but also play a vital role in butterfly conservation efforts. Together, we can create a welcoming sanctuary for these magnificent creatures and contribute to the preservation of their delicate and awe-inspiring species.


What are giant swallowtail host plants?

Giant swallowtail host plants are specific plant species that the giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) uses for laying eggs and providing food for its caterpillars.

What plants are suitable for giant swallowtail caterpillars?

Ruta Graveolens (common rue), Ptelea trifoliata (wafer ash or hop tree), and Zanthoxylum americanum (northern prickly ash) are suitable host plants for giant swallowtail caterpillars.

How do I attract giant swallowtails to my garden?

To attract giant swallowtails to your garden, provide suitable host plants like common rue, wafer ash, and northern prickly ash. You can also include nectar sources such as butterfly bush, lantana, Joe-Pye weed, and zinnias.

How long does the giant swallowtail life cycle take?

The giant swallowtail life cycle consists of eggs, larvae (caterpillars), and adults. The caterpillar stage lasts for three to four weeks, and the adult butterfly has a lifespan of one to two weeks.

Where are giant swallowtails predominantly found?

Giant swallowtails are predominantly found in the southeast United States, particularly in Florida. They can be found in various habitats ranging from citrus tree groves to diverse ecosystems.

What are some other swallowtail species and their host plants?

Some other swallowtail species and their host plants include the black swallowtail (dill, parsley, fennel), Eastern tiger swallowtail (ash trees, cottonwoods, tulip poplars), spicebush swallowtail (spicebush, camphor, sweet bay), pipevine swallowtail (pipevines, hoptrees), and zebra swallowtail (pawpaw plants).

How can I create a butterfly-friendly environment in my garden?

You can create a butterfly-friendly environment in your garden by planting suitable host plants, providing nectar sources for adult butterflies, protecting them from predators, reducing pesticide use, and incorporating cover, water sources, and suitable shelter.

Last Update: January 3, 2024