This card is part of our Animal and Plant Companions Series, which highlights native North American animals and plants who rely on each other for food, shelter, or survival. Let’s meet the pair and learn ways that we can help ensure they’re with us for generations to come!
The Zebra Swallowtail only lays eggs on Asimina (Pawpaw) species. The butterfly's range is limited to where Pawpaws grow: extending from southern New England to Florida, Texas, and the Mississippi region.
The Four-petal Pawpaw is endemic to Florida (found nowhere else in the world) and has been listed as endangered since 1986. While the Zebra Swallowtail can survive on any species of Pawpaw, Four-petal Pawpaw is an important host plant. The damage done to Pawpaw plants by developing caterpillars can actually encourage and stimulate new growth of both leaves and flower buds.
The real threat to the Four-petal Pawpaw is loss of habitat due to residential and commercial development within their narrow range, located around Palm Beach county in costal dune and scrub habitats. Fire suppression has also impacted the species, as lack of fire allows Pawpaws to be outcompeted by other vegetation (naturally kept in check by occasional fires).
Today fewer than 900 individual plants may exist with the majority being on unprotected private lands. Sadly federal and state protection for endangered plants is incredibly weak, allowing private landowners to kill the plants and destroy their habitats without repercussions. Furthermore, few organizations are focused on the preservation of native plant species when compared to efforts to protect and steward endangered charismatic animals.
The best way to help these and other endangered or threatened native plants is to support native plant societies and organizations such as The Institute for Regional Conservation or The Center for Biological Diversity.
See all stories behind our Animal and Plant Companions Series here.
About the author:
Vincent Frano is an avid student of nature. He is trained as an herbalist with over 10 years of experience in European traditions with knowledge of Ayurvedic and North American herbs. He holds a BS in Sustainable Horticulture from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he focused on herbal medicines, native plants, invasive species, and ecosystem restoration. Vincent is the co-founder of Small Victories and is the lead illustrator for Small Victories' products.
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