Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Host Plant Help

molanic(Zone 5 IL)February 8, 2012

I would like to try raising some eastern tiger swallowtails because for part of the season they are the most numerous butterflies in my yard.

I don't have any room to let the tree host plants mature. I did get some tulip tree seeds in a swap and have wintersown them. I hear they are fast growers and would like to try to keep them in a container and pruned to keep it manageable. Has anyone done this successfully? If so how fast do they really grow? I am somewhat concerned that I might get eggs on them when they are still seedlings and not be able to feed the cats.

I noticed in the FAQ that the magnolia and rose family are also listed as host plants. I have a rugosa rose and a small unknown species of magnolia tree as well. Has anyone here raised them on these species?

The magnolia is definitely not a sweet bay magnolia. All I know is that it was probably planted in the 70s, hardy to zone 5 at least, and was severely stunted and spindly from being planted under two silver maples with western exposure. All I have is pictures of it in blossom in mid April, if anyone can id it.

Any advice is appreciated.

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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I suggest wafer ash instead. Definitely a much smaller tree. I had tiger eggs on mine last year. Plus you will get GST eggs too. The leaves are much smaller than tulip tree leaves. With the smaller leaves, I raised the cats right on the tree using little wedding bags.

Cannot help you on how fast a tulip tree seedling will grow. Mine was already 10' to 12' when I had it put in.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 12:37PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

The magnolia in the picture is one of the deciduous, Oriental magnolias - as far as I know, tigers don't use them. Actually, I've only heard of them using sweetbay magnolias in south Florida, the tiger swallowtails there being a subspecies of our eastern tiger.
The members of the rose family that they use are trees, especially wild black cherry/Prunus serotina, their favorite host here. They reportedly use other Prunus species, also Malus/apple. They use tulip trees fairly frequently here. I've never tried to keep one in a container, and, considering their natural size and growth rate, I'd think that would be hard to do.
Which reminds me, Wayside Gardens is offering a new cultivar - 'Little Volunteer' - for the huge price of $58.95 or three for $50.95! This is the first small version of this big tree I've ever seen. It was said to be found in Tennessee. I'm very curious to know how they know it'll only grow to 1/3 the usual height of tulip trees. Maybe they cut a branch off the found tree and counted rings, and determined that it was much older than it looked? If so, how did they know there just wasn't something about the growing conditions that stunted it?
Other mail-order nurseries may offer it for a lesser price.
Anyway, here's a link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Liriodendron tulipifera 'Little Volunteer'

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 12:45PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I just read on another site that 'Little Volunteer' has leaves that are half the normal size - hmmmm......

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 12:48PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

And if you do find eggs on your seedlings, there are a lot different trees you can put those eggs on. Tigers are polyphagous. Off the top of my head, cottonwood is one I don't see on the FAQ. FAQ lists one specific ash but most ash species are supposed to work. Ornamental cherries, willow, sassafras, and elm. I've seen spicebush listed as a hostplant but I've failed multiple times to get 1st instar TST cats to eat it. Maybe a later instar would.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 12:53PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

As I continue to look up small tulip trees, I've found that there is another one, 'Ardis' that is supposed to be even smaller than 'Little Volunteer." I can only find it for sale at a wholesale nursery, though, and they even charge $30 for it wholesale.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 12:59PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

There is even a smaller one called "Ardis." You might even recognize one of the posters on this thread. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Liriodendron tulipifera

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 1:04PM
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Tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) are fast growers and get very tall. I had a small one that came up in one of my flower beds last year and till the end of the summer it got to be about 3 feet tall. It seems like every year I find one in one of the gardens. I transplant them to a better place where they can grow to be as tall as they want. I had a tulip poplar tree a few years ago that I kept in a 3-gallon pot and had it in there for several years. I kept it cut back so it wouldn't get huge but then eventually planted it out in the ground. Since they do get so big, I wouldn't want to keep one in a pot forever, but I see nothing wrong with keeping them in one for a few years. If you're worried about running out of food, like I said, the poplars grow fast so you should have plenty of food unless you'd get dozens and dozens of cats. I only had one the one year on that tree and it grew to be a big cat and then it died anyway. :(

So what I would do is grow a tulip poplar or two in pots temporarily and then find a place to plant them somewhere permanently after a few years. I'd also start some wafer ash trees, which I think only get about 20 or 30 feet tall, which is probably 1/3 or 1/4 as tall as tulip poplars get. Wafer ash trees are host plants for Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Giant Swallowtails. I don't think that they're real fast growers so in the meantime while they're taking their good ole time growing you could have a tulip poplar tree or two that's as tall as you are. I planted a wafer ash tree about 3 years ago and it's only about a foot tall. A poplar tree in the same amount of time would probably be about 9 feet tall.

I'm not familiar with the small varieties of tulip poplar that MissSherry mentioned, but you could try those too if you want.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 1:53PM
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...keep in mind that the plant families mentioned in the FAQ are there to provide a general classification for the specific hostplants listed below the family headings.

So you cannot assume that Rugosa roses might be a hostplant for the tiger--the FAQ is simply a list of plants that forum members have personally used or observed having hostplant activities occur on, making it a very incomplete list of all possible hostplants.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 11:59PM
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molanic(Zone 5 IL)

Wow, you guys are great with so much information so quickly! Thank you so much.

I was reading the e-mail copies of the posts earlier... deleting them as I finished because I knew I would have to re-read them more in depth tonight when I had more time. Then I realized I had accidentally deleted an e-mail from one of you that wasn't from a posting! I am not sure who it was from, was it caterwallin? Sorry that was dumb of me.

Those smaller tulip trees do look like a more reasonable size, but are still too big for our yard I think and out of my budget. I wouldn't be able to put it anywhere far enough away from the house and powerlines. I'm trying to think down the line for any future homeowners as well.

I am liking caterwallin's idea of using the wafer ash longterm, but tulip trees in containers in the meantime. I had seen the wafer ash on the host plant lists but always assumed it was just an ash tree...like the kind that get emerald ash borer so I never even looked it up. I don't know much about trees at all. The wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata) now that I know what it is, looks like it would work great. It is awesome that the giant swallowtail uses it too. I have never even seen a giant swallowtail, but supposedly they do come this far north.

I assumed that my rugosa rose and magnolia tree would not work, but thought it wouldn't hurt to ask. It would be funny if I went running around looking for a host plant, and later found out I already had one. I didn't even know all of the different types of things that were in the rose family.

Thanks again for all the great info everyone. I didn't think that many people frequented this forum in the winter.

Will the person that e-mailed me mind dropping me another e-mail too :) That was really dumb of me.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 1:43AM
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I grow my Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina) in a pot. I've had it for several years in the same pot, appx. 5 gal. It has grown faster than my Tulip Tree. The Tigers have used the Cherry tree only, ignoring the Tulip Tree entirely so far. Sandy, Butterflyok, says the Tigers have used both trees in her garden.

Sometimes the favorite host plants vary from region to region, too.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 6:26AM
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Thanks everyone for so much helpful information! I thought I was going to pot a tulip tree but you've given me some other options to consider. Don't forget to check eBay when looking for smaller trees. Tony

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 6:37PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I have lots of Prunus serotina, Prunus virginiana (choke cherry), as well as an as-yet-unidentified Prunus sp. that makes very pretty flowers, growing on my lot. The trees range in size from seedlings to a 50-ft tall, 50-year old Black Cherry. I've also got white ash and poplar.

Needless to say, I see a lot of ETS's flying around the yard (as well as a lot of birds! They love wild cherries). Last year for the first time I observed a female ETS ovipositing high up on some branches in the big Black Cherry! However, since the eggs were 30 feet up, it wasn't possible to collect them. ;)

I would like to try raising some of these butterflies too (along with Monarchs, BSTs, and SBSTs - am I obsessed or what? This forum is partly to blame!). From what I've observed, black cherry responds well to coppicing. I am thinking about coppicing a couple of the 10-20 year old trees, and see if the abundant fresh sprouts that result, will attract an egg-laying female.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 5:40PM
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I have never even seen a giant swallowtail, but supposedly they do come this far north.

DEFINITELY try to get some host plants for this beauty! I had my first experience with them last year. One of their host plants is rue, which is a small and quite pretty little bushy plant. Rue is also host to black swallowtails.

Anyway, last summer I had 3 giant swallowtails, and they were absolutely amazing. Very impressive size, and the entirely yellow underside and body...OMG, gorgeous!

I really can't recommend planting rue enough. Very hardy, nice looking, and comes back each year. I moved 3 plants from my old house and they're doing great.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 10:45PM
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mary_littlerockar(8a-7b mid Arkansas)

I have to second the suggestion of growing Rue. Starts easily and quickly from seed, grows fairly fast and hosts giant swallowtail and black swallowtail butterflies. It makes a pretty backdrop for annuals and grows in pots. In my area, it overwinters well, too. I even like the fragrance the leaves give off.

Here's Rue with a freshly laid Giant Swallowtail egg on it.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 1:11PM
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molanic(Zone 5 IL)

Thanks again for all the great suggestions. I do have some of the rue already. I put it in for the black swallowtails, but will definitely keep it around just in case I get any giant swallowtails. The black swallowtails did lay a few eggs on the rue... but the dill, bronze fennel, and Italian parsley seem to be their favorites here.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 12:18PM
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I grow Sweet Bay Magnolia - it's more of a bush and I keep it trimmed to 6 feet.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 4:55PM
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I have a large Sweet Bay and a large Black Cherry. When the Sweet Bay was small I saw a number of cats on it. That was maybe six or seven years ago, perhaps longer. Now I don't see any cats on either but they are so tall that I assume that there must be some on the higher branches.

In my opinion the tigers are the most beautiful of all the butterfiles. Especially the big females. I see some of the almost black females in the summer.

I have tried several times to grow Rue without any luck. Maybe I just don't know how to grow it, but also I'm thinking it doesn't like the heat and humidity of Central Florida. Wafer Ash doesn't grow well for me here either.

On the other hand I have a Wild Lime tree that has taken off. No limes, though. I think that the Giant Swallowtails visit it, but I have never found eggs or cats. They do seem to like to be around it, though.

Speaking of Magnolias, I have two Little Gems. The man who sold them to me said they would only get to be around fifteen feet. They are non near 40 feet. Lovely trees though; they have flowers around nine months of the year.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 6:30PM
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Rue thrives best on benign neglect. I rarely water it and never fertilize mine either. Treat it as a typical Mediterranean herb. except that in my zone, it prefers some shade. It should grow just fine in Florida. Maybe it needs more of a shady location, with excellent drainage, as most herbs require. Rue does need to be watered until it is established, and then very little once it is.

I consider it a short-lived perennial. After 4 or 5 years, it will probably need to be replaced. Some say it self-sows for them, but for me, it never has. It does, however, root readily in water. I have cut stems to put in my caterpillar containers, and it has rooted, despite the foliage being eaten to the bones.

Some people also have problems with contact dermatitis from handling the foliage and exposure to sunlight which then triggers the dermatitis. I am not allergic to it, but use caution just in case you are.

I find Rue in the local nurseries that have a large Herb section, for a couple bucks a plant, so it's not expensive. That means it's easy to propagate and grows quickly, contrary to herbs like Bay Laurel that grow so slowly and can be difficult to propagate, hence they are much more expensive plants.


    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 9:36AM
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edith_lee(8b FL)

Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, can be cut back to a foot tall with a chain saw. It will bush out and grow 10' in one summer but it will be bushy and then some. I've found both Tiger and Red-spotted Purple caterpillars on the one we keep cut back. We cut it every February. The one that's 25' tall ... can't see the caterpillars!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 7:20PM
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Edith, I've had my Black Cherry in a pot for about 5 years now.It is about 5-6' tall, with lots of branching. Do you have any idea whether it will bloom eventually in a pot, or not? Thanks!


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 9:33PM
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Susan beat me to it! I was going to suggest growing trees in pots. I think we need a bonsai expert to chime in but I think you can pretty much grow any tree in a pot. You will have to remove it from time to time to root prune it. The size of the pot will limit the growth. There is a lot of info on the japanese maple and bonsai forums about soiless mixes for pots. Most butterflies but not all, like to lay eggs on new growth. For a lot of trees, this means the top. So, we never see the eggs once they get big. Having a tree in a pot, pollarding, coppicing, or severe pruning can allow you access to lots of new growth. Tigers seem to lay eggs preferentially on tulip. I want to grow one in a pot or prune it heavily and then collect eggs off it, feeding the young something else. Maybe black cherry that sprouts all over the yard right next to the fence, so it grows through (dang birds. They must be using my fence as an outhouse.)

I fell head over heels in love with tulip trees this winter. We went for a winter tree ID walk with a friend. The giant tulip trees were amazing, even in winter with their leaves off. I want one...


    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 1:49PM
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Can you tell me what type of Rue is best for Tiger Swallowtail host plant. I see there are many different types listed as seeds to plant for them. If any are better please let me know. thank you.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 8:51PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH


Rue is mentioned in this thread a lot but does not go with the thread subject. Tigers will not eat it. The black and giant swallowtails are the swallowtail species that eat rue. The specific rue is Ruta graveolens.


Here is a link that might be useful: What host plants are grown to feed caterpillars?

    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 2:48AM
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