From Nursery to Nature: Evaluating Native Herbaceous Flowering Plants Versus Native Cultivars for Pollinator Habitat Restoration
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Plant and Soil Science
Leonard P. Perry
There is growing awareness about the value of preserving and restoring floral-rich habitats for the benefit of pollinators, especially native bees. The increasing demand for native plants in pollinator habitat restoration and other ecological landscaping applications, combined with the desire for more robust and predictable plant habits, have led to the selection and breeding of native cultivars. Yet, little is known about how these cultivated varieties differ from the native species in their ability to attract and support pollinators. I compared flower visitation by all insect pollinators to 12 native herbaceous plant species and 14 native cultivars in a replicated field experiment at two sites over two years. I classified insect pollinators during visual field observations into seven taxonomic and functional groups. I found seven native species to be visited significantly more frequently by all insect pollinators (combined) than their cultivars, four were visited equally, and one native cultivar was visited more frequently than the native species. Bees (both native and non-native) and moths/butterflies exhibited similar preferences, whereas flies showed no preference between the native species and the native cultivar. Our study shows that many insect pollinators prefer to forage on native species over cultivated varieties of the native species, but not always, and not exclusively. Some native cultivars may be comparable substitions for native species in pollinator habitat restoration projects, but all cultivars should be evaluated on an individual basis.
Plant selection is integral to the value and success of pollinator habitat restorations, yet there is little consistency and overlap in pollinator planting recommendations and very little empirical data to support plant choice. Non peer-reviewed pollinator plant lists are widely available and are often region-specific, but they are typically based on anecdotal rather than empirical data and lack in specificity. To help close the gap between anecdotal and empirical data, and between practice and research, I reviewed the published literature on plant selection for pollinator habitat restoration. I explicitly reviewed and compared the value of native plant species, near-natives, non-natives and native cultivars. From there, I identified gaps in the literature that are most needed in practice and recommended basic strategies for practitioners to navigate plant lists and choose the best plants for a site's success.
Number of Pages
White, Annie, "From Nursery to Nature: Evaluating Native Herbaceous Flowering Plants Versus Native Cultivars for Pollinator Habitat Restoration" (2016). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 626.