While pollinators are in decline, partly due to lack of plant resources, urban, semi-natural, green landscapes have become important resources for pollinator survival. Erica Erickson, a PhD student at Penn State, asked the question of what role, if any, ornamental plants play in the sustainability of the pollinator community? Pollinator visitations from two sites in central PA were recorded between July-September of 2016 & 2017, using 5 genera of commercially significant and commonly used ornamental plants (Marigold, Zinnia, Lobularia (Sweet alyssum), Lantana, & Pentas) and their cultivars along with native species. In terms of average diversity and abundance, Lobularia exhibited the highest variation among its cultivars, and Lantana exhibited the lowest variation among its cultivars. Besides Lobularia, the cultivars in this study were generally less attractive than many native or perennial plants. However, all plants attracted at least 2 taxonomic groups of pollinators. Dr. Erickson notes that while native plants might have received more visitations, commercial plants are bred for long bloom times and can be crucial forage resources for when native plants are not in bloom. Some takeaways Dr. Erickson recommends to gardeners are when possible opt for a diverse mix of native and perennial plants with a range of bloom times, avoid spraying pesticides during peak times of pollinator activity, and to leave some bare ground in your garden and hold off on clearing stems and leaf litter until spring to create habitat for ground and stem nesting bees. These actions can aid in the creation of quality pollinator foraging habitat.

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Profile picture of Emily Erickson.
By Emily Erickson
Graduate Student
Department of Entomology
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Email: ere6@psu.edu