Why natives matter

Tue. Feb. 26, 2019

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Why natives matter

Can a cultivar be as good as a native plant when you’re trying to attract pollinators?

Butterfly garden Sept. 2018 – all native plants. The asters are blooming

 The University of Minnesota says, “that depends”. Some cultivars are better than their native species, some are no different and some are worse at attracting pollinators.

Each plant should be considered on its own merits.  So how do we do that? When Annie White was a PhD graduate student at the University of Vermont, she compared several native species to cultivars. For two years in two locations, she counted all pollinators. God bless her. There were a LOT.  

She counted all insects and grouped them into broad categories. She included all bees, native and otherwise, butterflies, flies, beetles, etc. that were found foraging on the flowers. I won’t share all of them but there are some significant differences!  

On the common yarrow she counted a total of 1414 insects while the cultivar ‘Strawberry Seduction’ had 119.

Common yarrow – photo by Peter M. Dzuik
Yarrow ‘Strawberry Seduction’

Interestingly, as for Butterfly weed, the native had 230 insects while the cultivar ‘Hello Yellow’ had 331.

Butterfly garden 8-13-17 – the orange flower up front in native Butterfly weed – the yellow flowers in the background are black-eyed susans

The bugs weren’t picky when it came to native Black eyed Susan versus the cultivar ‘Goldstrum’, there was literally no difference.  

Karl Forester grass with black-eyed susan – Goldstrum

It’s the New England Aster that was significant. The native attracted 2100 insects while the cultivar ‘Alma Potschke’ attracted 234. (note the first picture are native asters blooming)

Aster ‘Alma Postchke’

The research continues as to why there’s a difference and which cultivars really make an impact. Find the full article in this link: University of Minnesota Horticulture Extension .  Educator Julie Weisenhorn continues to research this topic using several annual flowers at multiple locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This study is funded by the Horst M. Rechelbacher Foundation

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