I’ve been trying for years to entice Pipevine butterflies to lay their eggs on my gigantic Pipevine which crawls up the side of the house. I’ve only found larvae once in seven years. It was so discouraging, I was very close to ripping out the Pipevine and putting in a different plant. I’m glad I didn’t since I’ve finally figured out what they seem to want. The don’t want a gigantic plant with older leaves, they want a tender young shoot just coming out of the ground. I’ve dug these out in years past – now I know better.
Sherry, another butterfly devotee, gave me this advice: “In my case, I’ve got so many cats that few of the leaves on my vines get a chance to age – the cats keep them pruned and making new growth. I fertilize mine once or twice a year to keep plenty of new growth coming. In years past my vines have grown vigorously without cats chewing the leaves, and I cut them back deliberately to encourage new growth. Pipevine swallowtail females almost never lay eggs on old, tough leaves, so if I were you, I’d prune and fertilize them.”
According to an online article, Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg made the statement,”Butterflies are very attracted to many non-native species — such as butterfly bush, zinnias and lantanas — but they prefer native plants.”
It’s amazing to me when I see experts in the field make such silly statements. Butterflies prefer good nectar sources and many non-natives are much better sources. I’ve got Joe Pye Weed in my yard and I rarely see any butterflies on it. The reason is, I have Butterflybush, Lantana and many other non-natives which are flowering and are much more attractive to butterflies. In the wild, you’ll see butterflies on Joe Pye Weed, but that’s only because they don’t have any other options.
Given a choice, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails will always choose the non-native Butterfly Bush over the native Joe Pye Weed.
I’m always amazed at the bad advice and misinformation you can find online. One recent article I found said, “The only things butterflies are looking for as they flutter about are flowers — nectar sources — and any colorful garden will make them feel right at home.” (article)
The statement is actually wrong on two counts:
1. Butterflies are also looking for host plants. Nectar plants will give them energy, but they need host plants to lay their eggs. I frequently see butterflies going from plant to plant searching for the right host plant. Note – they also hunt for minerals, amino acids and all sorts of nutrients they need.
2. The second things wrong is that any colorful garden is good for butterflies – again wrong. Butterflies are looking for good nectar sources not colorful plants. Your garden could be filled with roses, yet you’d see few butterflies. Roses are not good nectar sources.
If you don’t want to plant a gigantic tulip tree to attract Tiger Swallowtails, consider the smaller Sweet Bay Magnolia. You can keep it trimmed down to a manageable size to be able to find the larvae.
It also appears to be a host plant for Giant Swallowtails.