Plant Anise Seeds for Anise Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail Caterpillars
Pimpinella anisum, also known as Anise or Aniseed, is an annual herb that is native to the Mediterranean. It has been cultivated extensively in Southern Europe, and is easy to grow in most of the US. It is in the parsley family and thus is a host plant of the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) and the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).
This anise seed is not to be confused with Star Anise (Illicium verum) which is actually a tree, native to Southern China. Although its uses and flavor are similar, it is not the same plant and is not in the same family, nor is it a host plant for these swallowtails.
Also confusing is that fennel Foeniculum vulgare is often called “anise” or “sweet anise”. Although fennel and anise are in the same family, have similar tastes, and are both host plants for these swallowtails, they are different plants.
Anise is mainly a host plant, but like many herbs the nectar of the flowers can attract several types of pollinators to your garden.
Characteristics of Pimpinella anisum
Anise plants grow about 18 inches tall and produces umbels of lacy white flowers in mid-late summer. The lower leaves of this plant are more round while the upper Ieaves grow more feathery. It is frost tender and is an annual that grows in zones 4-9.
Pimpinella anisum likes full sun and moderately fertile, med-dry soil that is well drained. It’s long taproot makes it somewhat drought tolerant. It will do well in sandy/loamy light soils, not heavy clay soils, however, raised beds and deep containers can be used successfully.
Anise seeds can be harvested for use whole or crushed as a licorice flavored herb. The flower heads can be cut off in the fall once they have ripened and are full of brown seeds. Let the seeds dry before storing. The leaves can be used at any time in soups, stews, etc.
Germinating Anise Seeds
Anise seeds can be sowed directly outside after the danger of frost has passed. They do not transplant well so it is best to direct sow the seeds. However, they can be started indoors if transplanted young and with minimal root-ball disturbance (take care not to break their taproot). Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep and they should germinate in about 10-21 days once the soil temperature is around 65-70F (21C). Final plant spacing should be 6-12″ apart.
Aniseed will bring butterflies, caterpillars, pollinators, delicate white flowers, and licorice flavor to your Garden! It’s hard to go wrong with this one!