Douglas B. Sponsler
Department of Entemology, Pennsylvania State University

Christina M. Grozinger
Department of Entemology, Pennsylvania State University

Rodney T. Richardson
Department of Biology, York University

Andrea Nurse
Climate Change Institute, The University of Maine Farmington

Dalton Brough
Pennsylvania State University

Harland M. Patch
Department of Entemology, Pennsylvania State University

Kimberly A. Stoner
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station

Research by Protecting Bees team.


In urban and suburban landscapes characterized by extensive designed greenspaces, the support of pollinator communities hinges significantly on floral resources provided by ornamental plants. The attractiveness of ornamental plants to pollinators, however, cannot be presumed, and some studies suggest that a majority of ornamental plant varieties receive little or no pollinator visitation. Here, we harness the sampling power of the western honey bee, a generalist pollinator whose diet breadth overlaps substantially with that of other pollinators, to survey the utilization of ornamental plants grown at three commercial nurseries in Connecticut, USA. Using a combination of DNA metabarcoding and microscopy, we identify, to genus-level, pollen samples from honey bee colonies placed within each nursery, and we compare our results with nursery plant inventories to identify the subset of cultivated genera that were visited during pollen foraging. Samples were collected weekly from May to September, encompassing the majority of the growing season. Our findings show that some plant genera known to be cultivated as ornamentals in our system, particularly ornamental trees and shrubs (e.g. Hydrangea, Rosa, Spiraea, Syringa, Viburnum), functioned as major pollen sources, but the majority of plants inventoried at our nurseries provided little or no pollen to honey bees. These results are in agreement with a growing body of literature highlighting the special importance of woody plants as resources for flower-visiting insects. We encourage further exploration of the genera highlighted in our data as potential components of pollinator-friendly ornamental greenspace.