Paw paws and zebra swallowtails

paw paw flower

paw paw flower

The native understory paw paw tree (Asimina triloba) grows in the woods and along river valley bottomlands. It can grow to 20-35’ in height and spread. Beautiful bell-shaped purple flowers appear from April to June, and from August to September it gives fruit that is enjoyed by the deer. Fall foliage varies from yellow to copper red.

paw paw fruit

paw paw fruit

Paw paw is the only host plant for the zebra swallowtail butterfly (Protographium marcellus). The butterfly lays its eggs on the foliage, which nourishes the hatching larvae as they grow. This specialized relationship occurs when a butterfly is dependent on only one host plant. Once the larvae are mature, they form a chrysalis and metamorphose. The result is a beautiful, fully grown zebra swallowtail butterfly. Two generations can occur per year.

zebra swallowtail larva (photo by Megan McCarty)

zebra swallowtail larva (photo by Megan McCarty)

zebra swallowtail butterfly (photo by Megan McCarty)

zebra swallowtail butterfly (photo by Megan McCarty)

Dandelions, blueberries, clover, redbud, and the nectar of many native plants attract adult zebra swallowtails. Butterflies like to drink water from birdbaths and puddles and can take in minerals from stones. Late-season nectar sources are important in the landscape, as are goldenrods, asters, and milkweeds. Consider planting native plants that attract and nourish this beautiful butterfly, and you’ll be rewarded by the sight of their graceful swooping from plant to plant in your garden.

Robyn Affron
Visitor Services Coordinator
Certified Professional Horticulturist

 

 

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