Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying bottlebrush flowers in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying bottle-brush flowers (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Lately I feel like I’m living on a Lepidoptera landing strip, with butterflies dive-bombing me from all directions as they head in to land on a succulent blossom in my yard.  It’s heavenly to watch!  Some fly in pairs, others swoop in alone.  Clusters of yellow Eastern Tiger swallowtails congregate on a mound of bright purple phlox, casually fluttering over to some nearby rudbeckia flower heads.  A female black swallowtail is sipping nectar from the throat of a Casa Blanca lily, while a monarch settles in for a treat on masses of rose colored eupatorium blooms nearby.  This is the reward I get for planting dozens of tempting delicacies in my gardens, priceless indeed!

Black Swallowtail caterpillar on bronze fennel in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Contortionist Black Swallowtail caterpillar on bronze fennel (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

In my New England zone 5 garden, I can expect to see several different butterflies and moths that are native to this area.  Here are just a few, with many I had never heard of before: Brush footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae) such as the gold and chestnut Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) and the well known Monarch (Danaus plexippus)Gossamer winged Butterflies (Lycaenidae) like the silver and bronze American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas), Metalmarks (Riodinidae) including Northern Metalmark (Calephelis borealis), Skippers (Hesperiidae) like Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus), Swallowtails (Papilionidae) such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) and the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), which looks similar to the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) and Whites & Sulphurs (Pieridae) such as the canary yellow Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice).  Please visit: www.nenature.com/Butterflies.htm  to see images of hundreds of  New England butterflies, and for the rest of North America please visit:  www.butterfliesandmoths.org


Monarch butterfly enjoying Joe-Pye weed in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Monarch butterfly enjoying Joe-Pye weed (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Monarchs: (Danaus plexippus from the Nymphalidae familyare a much loved visitor to the garden, and their bright mahogany wings bordered in black are easily recognized.  Both males and females have white markings and wing spans up to almost 5 inches.  Females lay eggs under host plants such as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and many of us can hope to see their caterpillars during July and August.  Adults migrate south from the end of August through October, flying thousands of miles to reach Mexico and Southern California.  Adult monarchs feed on all forms of milkweed and other native perennials such as goldenrod, ironweed, coneflower and Joe-pye weed.  They prefer to rest during their flight south in open fields and meadows, which is why sustaining open habitat is crucial to their future existence.


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in Lily in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail inside a Lily (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail: (Papilio glaucus from the Papilionidae family) another easily recognized and welcome member of the Lepidoptera family, with lemon yellow wings accented with black, orange and brilliant blue markings on the hindwing.  Though the male is always yellow, the female may vary from yellow to black with shadow stripes, both having a potential wingspan over 4 inches.  The swallowtail caterpillars host on a variety of native trees such as ash, birch and willow, and also love native perennials including varieties of milkweed, Joe pye weed and bee balm.  They begin their journey south toward the end of September, stopping to lounge in forests and river valleys along the way.


Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly in Casa Blanca lily in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Female Black Swallowtail butterfly in Casa Blanca lily (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Black Swallowtail: (Papilio polyxenes from the Papilionidae family) and Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus from the Papilionidae family)  are easily confused due to their darker color patterns and similar size (about 4 inches).  In addition, female Eastern Tiger swallowtails can also be dark, so you’ll really have to look closely (if you can).  The male black swallowtail has a unique yellow border near the edge of his dark wings, while the female will have yellow spots and some blue on her hindwing. The caterpillar prefers leaves in the parsley family, and I can personally attest to their adoration of fennel, dill and rue as well.  The adults also indulge on native milkweed, clover, thistle and coneflower, which sustains them during their flight south before October. On the other hand, the spicebush swallowtail (also around 4 inches) is mostly black with some ivory spots, orange markings and a turquoise coloring on the male hindwing, with a midnight blue sheen for the female.  Spicebush caterpillars prefer the leaves of sassafras, spicebush and tuliptree, while the parent likes to feast on jewelweed, milkweed, clethra, thistles and honeysuckle before they head home in October.  See more about Marvelous Milkweeds

We are so lucky to have these beautiful, multifaceted beings floating overhead throughout the summer.  They’ll be heading south before you know it, so be sure to take a moment to enjoy them while they’re here!


  1. Very educational! I never knew there were so many different varieties in our part of the country, they’re beautiful!

    • Now when you are out in the yard you’ll (hopefully) be able to name some of the various butterflies flying about. Judging by the multitude of caterpillars I had, there should be quite a few black swallowtails in my yard pretty soon-I can’t wait! Thanks so much for writing~

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