Kentucky Natives

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar

I love my Kentucky garden and all of the wonderful wildlife it supports.    I am especially fond of what I call my “anchor” plants, which are the native trees and shrubs that play host to my lovely butterflies and provide food, cover and nesting sites for the song birds that grace my yard.

Pawpaw tree

Pawpaw tree

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

Pawpaw

My pawpaw (Asimina triloba) tree is the only host plant for Zebra Swallowtail butterflies.  This delightful tree grows wild in damp woods, but mine thrives in full sun as long as it has moist soil.  I keep it pruned to retain a nice compact shape.  Plant at least two if you want fruit.  The reddish-brown blooms resemble the flowers of wild ginger, and they are pollinated by small carrion flies.  I’m not particularly wild about the mushy banana-tasting fall fruit, but I’ve heard it makes great sweet bread and other desserts.  I do really like the large tropical-looking leaves on this tree.

Spicebush

Spicebush

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush

I have several Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) shrubs because they host my Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies.  They grow in the same damp woods as the pawpaw trees.  They prefer the wet, shady spots in my yard but will also grow in part-sun as long as their roots stay moist.  Their tiny blooms appear prior to the leaves, and attract lots of small pollinators in early spring.  The red berries on the female plants are a good food source for birds.

Prickly Ash

Prickly Ash

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

Prickly Ash

By now you’ve probably guessed it – this is another native of Kentucky’s damp wooded areas and stream banks.  The prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) is actually in the citrus family, not ash.  It is the host plant for Giant Swallowtail butterflies.  In the far south, these butterflies lay eggs on citrus trees like orange and lime.  I plant these along my fence line in part-sun to shade.  They live up to their name as they are covered in thorns very similar to a rose-bush.  The birds love to hang out in these shrubs.

Gotta have your greens!

Over the years I’ve learned how important it is to include shrubs and trees in my beautiful wildlife garden, not just pretty flowers.  It’s all about balance and a diverse mix of plantings to attract plenty of insects, birds and other critters!

bunny

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I am always so excited to find caterpillars munching on plants that I’ve chosen specifically because they are host plants. Every glimpse of “wild” life is like a small affirmation of doing something right! Well, except for that herd of deer … :)
    Ellen Honeycutt recently posted..Spring Forward

  2. says

    Well done Judy!

    Here is Florida the zebra swallowtails also use Netted Pawpaw (A. reticulata) which is great because that is the variety that grows naturally at my place….and I am blessed with LOTS of the z.s.

    Interesting that the ash is citrus. I checked and that plant is endangered in Florida. I’m too far south anyway. Seems to be only up in the northernmost part.

    I have a lemon tree for the giants, but I added a native wild lime and they seem to have taken to that as well. Unfortunately the wild lime didn’t take to kindly to the freeze this week. It’ll come back, but it looks pretty sad right now.

    Your spicebush is gorgeous (as is the butterfly). That is one I will have to do some investigation on. Thanks for all the info.
    Loret recently posted..Mountains in Florida?

    • says

      Thank you Loret :)
      I didn’t know about Netted Pawpaw in Florida. I’ll have to keep that one in mind for southern folks that ask about host plants. Thanks for the new info!

  3. says

    We don’t get Zebra Swallowtails this far north, but I have a friend in Cape May who has been planting Pawpaws for years now because the Zebras have been found in Delaware and it’s a very short hop across the Delaware bay to her garden. Maybe someday soon we’ll have them here in Pennsylvania, too. They are so beautiful!
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..My Interview on Real Dirt With Ken Druse

    • says

      It’s definitely possible. We always teach our groups to plant corridors of host and nectar plants to extend the breeding range for our native butterflies. Now that so many are losing their habitats it becomes even more important for us to lend them a hand and create new habitat areas for them to move into.

  4. says

    Hi Judy,
    Your butterflies and plants bring back memories of when I was a child growing up in Lexington. I can almost smell the summer. I live in Maine now, where the seasons and the few swallowtails are very different. It will probably be a long time before we get warm enough here for a southern Zebra Swallowtail!
    Dudley

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