Year of the Pollinator Series – July: Spicebush Swallowtail

Presenting: Awbury’s 2018 series on pollinators– from wasps to wind! 

Monthly articles will correspond with our programming and our “Pollinators FOUND at Awbury Arboretum” art show and scavenger hunt.

Articles written by La Salle student and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

JULY 2018 – SPICEBUSH SWALLOWTAIL

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail – credit: Univ. of Milwaukee

Centuries ago in ancient Greece, the word psyche meant soul. In those times, the soul had a mystical, transformative power, especially when a person died and made the journey to the afterlife. Psyche was also a princess of outstandingly beauty from popular folklore that sparked jealousy in the goddess of beauty (Venus) and inspiration in the god of love (Cupid). But psyche had another meaning. The famous philosopher Aristotle attached the word psyche to the butterfly, the tiny winged creature that has not only captivated people and cultures for ages, but also has played a key part in the pollination process for many plant species. While we took a look at the eastern tiger swallowtail last month, we place this month’s spotlight on a different butterfly, the spicebush swallowtail, a winged pollinator that is illustrated in one of Karen Singer’s ceramic tileworks.

The spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus Linnaeus) is a common pollinator around the gardens and natural lands of the eastern and mid-western United States. As opposed to the colorfulness of the eastern tiger swallowtail, the spicebush swallowtail is much more monotone. It is mostly black, and can fool people for being a butterfly if it were not for the iridescent blue tinges and yellow spots at the bottom of the wings.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail – of the FOUND exhibit by Karen Singer Tileworks

But apart from the name, the spicebush swallowtail derives its name from (you guessed it) the spicebush, a flowering plant that can be found in many places where the swallowtail calls home. It can be found everywhere from woodlands to home gardens, and therefore, is a popular stop for this particular swallowtail. These butterflies can often be seen drinking nectar on spicebush flowers, but more importantly, swallowtail larvae use the spicebush as a main food staple and as shelter. One clever way these larvae have adapted to survive is their ability to erase their tracks, an essential skill when being sought after by hungry birds or other predators. After snacking on these leaves, they will chew through the stems so that the leaf will fall to the ground, effectively covering their tracks as to not attract the attention of a predator.

It might be an unwritten rule amongst gardeners that having a butterfly population flit about your patches of flowers is the sign of a “true” garden. Well, there is some truth to that – butterflies can certainly help pollinate flowers that some bees or other pollinators can’t, mainly because butterflies can see a range of colors that other insects can’t. However, few seem to know that the right kinds of food and shelter for caterpillars are being threatened. Without the right resources for larvae, butterflies won’t be able to flourish. However, creating a caterpillar garden (or modifying yours to become caterpillar-friendly) only takes a few steps. Find a spot that gets good sunlight and is partially sheltered from strong winds, and make sure there are no bird houses in close proximity. Spicebush swallowtails are attracted to sassafras, spicebush, tulip tree, and sweet bay magnolia, so planting these can provide the homes necessary for a healthy caterpillar population. Visit this link for additional details about creating a butterfly garden, and also check out the other plant species that can bring other butterflies to your own home.

Sources:

Walliser, Jessica. “Flowers That Attract Pollinators: It’s Not About the Grown-Ups.” Savvy Gardening, Savvy Gardening, 13 Feb. 2018, savvygardening.com/flowers-that-attract-pollinators-not-about-grown-ups/.

Hall, Donald, and Jerry Butler. “Spicebush Swallowtail.” Spicebush Swallowtail – Papilio Troilus Linnaeus, University of Florida, Sept. 2015, entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/spicebush_swallowtail.htm.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Psyche.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Feb. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Psyche-classical-mythology.

“Posts about Spicebush on The Natural Web.” The Natural Web, WordPress, 14 Apr. 2014, the-natural-web.org/tag/spicebush/.