Hoptrees and Giant Swallowtails
Giant Swallowtails almost sound like some mythical insect but in fact they are real and now and then they flutter through and even breed in Loudoun. With a wingspan that can reach 7 inches, this is an impressive butterfly that certainly gets noticed flying through a garden.
If you lived in Florida, seeing Giant Swallowtail butterflies would not be a big deal as they are abundant there. In fact, to some trying to grow orange trees, they can be seen as pests because they host on citrus trees and eat the leaves. Mature citrus trees don’t make a flinch at having these Giant cats feed on them but a small plant could quickly be gobbled up.
Here in Virginia, these butterflies are not as prevalent and some of us get rather excited when we see a little caterpillar disguising itself as a bird dropping resting on the leaf of one of our hoptrees (Ptelea trifoliata). Here are some photos of one that I raised – the photos show the caterpillar and the chrysalis:
The Common Hoptree, also known as Wafer Ash, is a small shrub or tree that is native to the eastern US and is fairly easy to grow. In certain states, it is a threatened or endangered species. Here in Virginia, it does not carry any of those designations but it also is not that widespread and occurs in only part of the State. Loudoun is one of the areas it’s found in however and if you want to attract this butterfly, planting Hoptrees is the best way to do it.
You can learn more about Giant Swallowtails at this Butterfly Fun Facts site: http://www.butterflyfunfacts.com/giant.php
If you want to plant Hoptrees, ask our local native plant nurseries like Nature By Design and Hill House Farm & Nursery if they can get some for you. Or, check online growers selling Ptelea trifoliata, but before you buy, ask any grower if pesticides were used on the plant. Pesticides kill caterpillars after all.