94 Aaron Anderson – Which Native Plants Are Best For In Your Garden For Oregon Bees? (in English)

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Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture.

Get ready, set, go! The gardening season has begun here in western Oregon and this was a good opportunity of been planning it for a long time and lots of people have requested my next guest, Aaron Anderson. He's a PhD student here in the OSU department of Horticulture. He's supervised by a former guest, Dr. Gale Langalato and many of you have probably heard about Aaron's work.

It's been featured in a national webinar. Aaron and Dr. Langalato have been presenting these results to master gardeners around the state. His PhD work centers around a large field trial that's being conducted at OSU's North Willamette Research and Extension Center where he's studying 23 native Willamette Valley wildflower species. So he's going to report back on how good each of these species, how they rank in terms of their attractiveness to pollinator, but also other beneficial insects. But he also has this other element where he's got back to gardeners and said, here are the best flowers. How do you think they look in your garden?

So this is a really great combination of really kind of hard science behind plants that you can put in your garden and really thinking carefully about how to incorporate those plants into the aesthetic that many gardeners appreciate. Hope you enjoy the episode. It is my really great pleasure to be sitting across from Aaron Anderson from Oregon State University. Welcome to Pollination.

Speaker 2: Thanks so much. I'm really happy to be here.

Speaker 1: It is a really wet week here in Oregon. I think some people had a hard time getting to the campus because of some of the flooding, but clearly that water is going to subside and people are going to go back to planting their spring garden. And I guess one of the things that we're always talking about is, you know, planting a pollinator garden.

Now, why is it a complicated issue? I mean, there are plantless galore. You can go pollinator plant and you'll just be overwhelmed. So why is it a mystery as to what to do?

Speaker 2: Yeah, that's a great question. So indeed, yeah, there's numerous plant lists available out there, which I think is a really great thing because it shows the public interest in planting for pollinators and pollinator conservation. But unfortunately, most of those lists are based on anecdotal evidence and observation, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but there's been very few studies that have been done on the relative attractiveness of different plants to pollinators, especially in like a garden type setting.

There was a study at Michigan State University that did that. But other than that, that's the only one in North America that I'm aware of. And actually, Garbuzov and Ratnick's in England, that they titled List Mania, which made me chuckle, comparing these pollinator planting lists worldwide. And they found very little overlap between the lists, even among lists that were supposed to cover the same geographic region. Okay, so not that straightforward just because there's a lot of different lists, a lot of different people observe bees on different plants, and then they'll add them to the list. And unfortunately, sometimes you'll see these lists and there's plants that aren't even really pollinated by bees on them. They're hummingbird plants. So there can just be a little bit of misinformation involved.

Speaker 1: Well, I can imagine that, especially when it comes to the world of gardening. There are so many people involved. There's so many people selling things. There's people making casual observations who may not recognize their bees. So there must be just this whole range of information that comes out that gets compiled into these lists. And when people get them, they don't realize it. It seems like, oh, this is a solid list. If I do these three plants, I'm...

Speaker 2: Yeah, exactly. I think that really is the issue.

Speaker 1: Well, I guess that sort of begs the opposite question is like, well, isn't there one super plant? Maybe there's a range of plants. Maybe the strategy for a lazy gardener like me is just like, I'll get this one plant to rule them all, the super plant. What's wrong with that idea?

Speaker 2: That'd be great. Just one plant to save all the bees. So the issue with that idea is we don't really have plants that bloom from April all the way until September. During the whole period, the bees are flying. This time of year, you have some early season bees and dreadnits flying and in bombas queens, you see a lot of those flying around and they're really reliant on these early season flowers and especially on a lot of shrubs and tree species as well. But then different bee species will keep emerging throughout the growing season in their flight season.

So a bee that is flying in July is going to be visiting different flowers than a bee that's flying right now here in April. So a really important consideration when you're designing a garden or any pollinator habitat is to make sure that you include plants that are obviously high value as a resource, but then have overlapping bloom so that you don't have a period of time where you have bees flying around your garden looking for food, but there's nothing blooming. So it's important for their phenological reasons and then there's also just a variety of different pollinators. So both within, you know, the bee taxes, some are generalists, some are specialists and they need certain flower species, but then also things like butterflies, moths, humming birds generally are attracted to different types of flowers. So having a broad suite of flowers that are attractive to all of those different pollinators really can boost the habitat value of your yard.

Speaker 1: I guess this is where the list comes in. The list is supposed to capture all of this. It's supposed to say, you know, here's a suite of plants that will take, you know, serve this broad array of pollinators that are, and I guess they're starting to come out now. Like I think people in Oregon and Western Oregon at least can see your bumblebees and as you pointed out, these little minor bees are, you know, on your willows and on your maples, but really a list is meant to capture what comes next and what comes next that you've got a kind of full.

Speaker 2: Right. Yeah. I think a really valuable list would include the most attractive flower species, of course, but then also that, that phenological, that timing data of when these plants are blooming and what types of pollinators are attracted to them. And then even just the aesthetic component, you know, what colors are they so that gardeners too can, can kind of choose and make decisions not just on the ecological principles, but then also on aesthetic ones as well.

Speaker 1: Well, I want to come back around to that. I know you've been working on thinking through the aesthetic questions and sort of like how they come and they serve these ecological functions. But I think that's the other part of the list.

A list, a kind of comprehensive list of plants will look good together as well. They have to, in addition to helping these bees, you know, having the color palettes be coherent and.

Speaker 2: Right. Yeah. We want plants that aren't just attractive to bees, but are also attractive to gardeners. Oh, what a dilemma. Okay.

Speaker 1: You're doing your PhD here at OSU and you're interested in these questions. Tell us how you're specifically addressing them.

Speaker 2: Yeah, that's a great question. So I'm here at OSU, as you said, studying under Dr. Gale Angolato and she is the statewide master gardener coordinator and is an entomologist by training, but is really interested in doing research in garden systems, which are historically a really understudied type of habitat. But gardens make up, I think about 50% of urban green space. So collectively, the potential for conservation, especially in these areas that are already lacking in suitable habitat is really high. So as I mentioned earlier, there's not a lot of actual research based pollinator planting lists around and that's the case here in the Pacific Northwest.

So that was kind of the impetus for my study. I was curious what plants are most attractive to pollinators here in the Willamette Valley and which plants attract the highest abundance overall, which attract the most species and then also which plants are the most attractive to pollinators. And I'm particularly interested in native plants, both just because I enjoy natives, but then also because I'm interested in plants that will be able to be applied in a lot of different situations. So not just in home gardens, but also places like roadside and even in ecological restoration applications. Right, right, right. So that's part of the reason that I started looking at native plants.

Speaker 1: OK, and so I guess you didn't just go out and ask people, you did figure out which plants are of high quality, you had to set up an experiment. Tell us a little bit about what that experiment looks like.

Speaker 2: Yeah, so I have about three acres of land at the North Willamette Research and Extension and center.

Speaker 1: Sorry, thank you. Don't spell it out that often. I've been a rower, one of the OSU research farms. So I ended up picking 23 different native Willamette Valley wildflowers to screen for their attractiveness to pollinators, but then also to natural enemies and pests as well. Since I'm sampling the insect communities associated with them, I thought this was a great opportunity to look at these other types of insects visiting these flowers as well. And I decided on doing 23 plants because I was limited by space. I have five replicates of each species. And I picked flowers that have some documented use by pollinators to begin with, are drought tolerant, able to grow in full sun. And then also we have a member of our lab who is a landscape designer and she vetted my plants to make sure there was some aesthetic value to them as well. So starting with flowers that are native to the Willamette Valley, but then that can be applied in many different situations and have some degree of aesthetic appeal.

It's a great way to sort of set it up. So you sort of like said, we want water wise plants. We want plants that look good. We want plants that grow in a variety of situations that are available and people can buy them. So this is like a really curated list.

Speaker 2: Yeah, actually, that's a great point. Something that I don't often mention is I also wanted plants that are able to be purchased by the home gardener because a lot of natives, you really have to seek for seek them out, you know, search them from from local native plant growers. So I did have to work pretty hard to get some of my species, but they all are available. If you know where to look for them.

Speaker 1: OK, all right. So you set them up, you put them in this array and then you started sampling them for bees, but also these other things that may be beneficial in your garden.

Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So we have 140 plots total, including control plots and something I forgot to mention. Wait, 140. Yep. Wow. OK, so yeah, 23 different native wildflowers replicated five times a control plot. And then I also have four exotic garden species that are known to be attractive to bees to use as a comparison.

So I have oregano, sage, catnip and lavender. So those are really known to be pollinator powerhouses in the garden. And it's really interesting to be able to compare those to these native flowers to kind of see how they stack up.

Speaker 1: So oregano, sage, catnip and lavender. Lavender. But those are yeah, those are common plants you see in the garden and they're usually humming with bees. So exactly. If these other plants were like as good as those are better, that gives you like a little yardstick, I guess. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. OK, all right. OK, and so you've done this for two years.

Speaker 2: Yeah. So what happens is, you know, all of the I was mentioning, phonology is really important.

Speaker 1: And wait a second. You said that word twice now.

Speaker 2: What does it mean? So just essentially the timing of the bloom of the flowers. So OK, so one of the things I do is track when these flowers start blooming, when the period of peak bloom is, and then when they stop blooming.

Oh, fantastic. So when the flowers are in that period of peak bloom, I go out and do pollinator observations. So I sit at each plot for five minutes and I count every insect that lands on an open flower.

So bees, obviously, surfed flies, butterflies, but then even things like beetles and bugs, you know, true bugs walking across anything that touches an open flower. I mark down. And then after I do that, I sample with this insect vacuum, which just is really fun to use. It sucks up all of the insects present underneath. It's a modified leaf blower.

Speaker 1: I was going to say, like when people think of bee vacuum, we had Dr. Priya Chakrabarti on the show and she was talking about a vacuum, but yours is more like a like a bee cannon. It kind of looks like that, doesn't it?

Speaker 2: It sucks everything up. Unfortunately, also, you know, things like leaves and dirt sometimes.

Speaker 1: That's a lot of stuff to sort through afterwards. So I pass it over and, you know, I sampled the pollinators, but then also the pests and natural enemies as well, that are associated with all of these. And then I back those up, put them in ethanol and go back to the lab to look at them under the scope. OK, well, I think that gives us a really good natural break point.

I want to I think everybody's on the edge of the seas like, so what did you find? Well, you won't be able to know that until after the break. So we'll take a quick break. We'll come back and then Aaron will share with us the findings from his study. Great. We're back.

And so we are on the edge of our seat. We've heard about this plot trial, the bee vacuums. You've sucked everything up and you've been able to assess, I guess, with each of these different. How many plants were there again? So let's see, twenty seven total twenty seven plants. You're able to get a real clear measure of who's visiting it. How many there are. Tell us about what you found.

Speaker 2: Yeah. So as you mentioned, I've done this for two field seasons so far. So I have my data pollinator observations for these first two years. And the first year, Gilea capatata, Madia elegans, Astrosubcacatus, Soledago, or Goldenrod and then Katnip were the top five most attractive plants. And those first four are all native, the first two are native annuals and the second two are native perennials. And I think it's really notable that all of those four were more attractive than Katnip as well as oregano, which are known as I said, to be really attractive pollinator plants in the garden.

The second field season, the results were different. Oregano was actually the most attractive plant overall, followed by Gilea capatata and native annual lavender, then California poppy and then Katnip. So you can see just by, you know, or I guess you can hear the difference between those three of those non native garden plants jumped into the top five. But I noticed that a lot of those garden plants were being visited by honeybees. If you look at the graph, honeybees visitation is really driving that high abundance on oregano, lavender, as well as Katnip. So I thought it'd be really interesting to look at that data, but not consider honeybees and the, for the first year, that data looks about the same. It's Gilea capatata, Madia, Aster, California poppy, and then Katnip drops out and Goldenrod jumps into the top five.

So all five are native species. For the second year, there's a complete reshifting of the top five most attractive plants when you don't take honeybee visitation into account. California poppy was the most attractive, followed by Douglas Aster. Facilia actually was the third most attractive, then Goldenrod and then Clarkia actually are very well to spring. So again, all five of those are native plant species.

So it's seeming like the native bees are visiting the native plants more preferentially, and then at least in the second year, the honeybees are visiting these exotic garden species, which is something I didn't expect going in. Okay.

Speaker 1: So let me just, that was a lot for me. So the first part is that you had this difference between the two years and that difference, just to start with that difference, what accounted for that difference in those two years?

Speaker 2: That's a great question. So I think that some of the differences that we saw between the first two years, one was due to just the establishment of the plants. So half of my plants are perennials and we put them into the ground as starts. So we didn't start the perennials from seed, but they were smaller and we got them into the field a little bit late.

So I think that their bloom timing might have been a little bit off for some of them, some of them bloomed in the greenhouse before we could actually put them into the field, unfortunately. So I think that could have played a role. And I think the bigger difference between the two years was water availability. So for the first year, we watered the plants because we wanted to make sure the perennials established and that really kind of prolonged the bloom. And then it was also a much wetter summer that first year. We had about 2.8 inches of rain across that growing season. But in second year in 2018, there was only two tenths of an inch of rain across May through August.

So it was really dry. So a lot of those plants, their bloom times were a lot shorter. And I think that could have played a difference as far as the attractiveness to these bees.

Speaker 1: So in the second year, the plants are fully established. So that's sort of, you know, for some of these perennials, that would be a good reflection of like how they're going to be, what they'll look like into the future. But it also was tested in a dry year. So in some ways, some of these other plants may perform different, whether there's moisture or not. But the second year may seem to be a good indication if you were going to be planting some of these plants in a dry spot, this is a good indication of their ranking.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I think so. And also I think something that's really encouraging is that pretty much all of those perennials survived and are still there in the field right now. You know, getting ready for the third field season. So I think that's also a great point in their direction is the fact that not only were a lot of them really attracted to pollinators, despite the dry season, they were able to survive without any extra help from us.

Speaker 1: Okay. So the second thing you pointed out is in that second year, in fact, some of these exotic plants outperformed the native plants only when you looked at all of the bees. But as soon as you took the honey bees out, there must have been a lot of visits from honey bees. There were. Yeah. Then those exotic plants just fall out and you were left with this list of California poppy. Yeah.

Speaker 2: Um, California. Well, the spring. Very well to spring. Golden rod, Douglas, Aster and facility. Okay.

Speaker 1: So that is how that's interesting too. There's a kind of way in which like, you know, when we were talking about the Uber plant, right? Is like, it shows that there isn't just one plant. If you're, if you're trying to feed honey bees, it's different than if you're trying to feed native bees. Yeah.

Speaker 2: I think that that's reflected so far in the data I've collected. And something else that's interesting as well is that when I look at, you know, kind of certain bee taxa in particular, they're attracted to certain species more than others. So, you know, an easy one to look at is bumblebees because they're really easy to identify. Bumblebees in particular were really attracted to a facility and to lavender. Uh, and I'm trying to remember California poppy. Those were the top three for bumblebees.

So, you know, if you're looking at, you know, some of like the smaller native bees versus the larger native bees, that answer might be different as well, as far as which is the best flower to plant. Yeah.

Speaker 1: I can imagine something like goldenrod. Whenever I've looked at goldenrod, I've seen like, like lots of bees that I only see on goldenrod, a real tiny little flower, the little bees can get into as opposed to like a lavender with a very long.

Speaker 2: Right. I think the flower structure really plays a great role in that for sure. And yeah, the facility is one of those ones that also has a really long coral on the flower and you pretty much only see bumblebees and then some, uh, early season longhorn bees as well. I'm visiting that. None of the smaller bees can, can really get in there, I think. Okay.

Speaker 1: So we've got this list of flowers and it looks like your, your initial interest in native plants sort of pays off. off, especially in this second year. They seem to really, if you want to attract a broad range of pollinators to your garden, there seem to be some plants that are really good. Well, let's walk through these top five. Just tell us a little bit about what resources they provide. So, California poppy, let's start with California poppy.

Speaker 2: Yeah, California poppy, it's technically a perennial, I believe, but lots of people grow it as an annual and it dies off in the winter pretty easily, but it has beautiful orange flowers, which I think is really unique aesthetically for gardeners because they're really gorgeous. Yeah, and they're easy to grow. They might seed a little more aggressively than some people want, but a lot of people just on my block here in Corvallis, Gros California poppy, and it looks gorgeous. And I see a lot of bumblebees and other native bees visiting it and hardly any, I think I saw one honeybee visit it over the two years entire. And I think that's because it doesn't produce nectar.

Speaker 1: I think that's a good point. People are maybe not recognizing things like lupins and poppies. They're not nectar producing plants. Their only reward is pollen. Right.

Speaker 2: Yeah, so I think that might have been driving that difference, but yeah, it's a beautiful plant. I think it's really easy to grow in the garden, especially in places like I spread some seed right in the, what's it called, that little median between the sidewalk and the road where there really wasn't anything growing through a handful of poppy seed down and they're taking off. So I think it's a great type of plant to grow in that situation. Okay, so the other one was Madia.

Speaker 1: What is that?

Speaker 2: Yeah, Madia is a really unique, a little bit polarizing plant because it's only, I say that because I really like it. So a lot of people, I know, really like it, but then some people are like, Oh, I think it looks too weedy when it kind of goes to seed. But the nice thing about a lot of these annuals is if you don't like how they look after they go to seed or right before they go to seed, you can just pull them out.

You know, really easy to do that with. But Madia has these really beautiful kind of burgundy and yellow flowers. But something unique about it is that they close up during the heat of the day. So they're open early in the day and then through the morning.

But then I think what it is is there's no moisture loss and nothing in the flower allows for kind of controls against moisture loss. So to combat that, they close up. So there's a lot of pollinator visitation early in the day. But then later in the day, they're just closed up.

So some people don't like it because they aren't, you know, showing throughout the entire day. But I saw a lot of, you know, little metallic green sweatbees on them. And they were a really popular plant, especially the first year.

Speaker 1: Oh, but Douglas Aster must have been very similar kind of. You had, you know, I was thinking about metallic

Speaker 2: sweatbees and yeah, a lot of metallic sweatbees on Douglas Aster, a lot of long horned bees. It was definitely kind of almost like an insect truck stop. Just so much was coming and going. Lots of other insects as well. I collect a lot of parasitoids off of Aster and it's also easy to grow. It's a, it's a perennial. It has these beautiful purple flowers that are really showy. And I think please a lot of gardeners and you can buy a lot of cultivated varieties at a lot of gardens stores as well as the native ones to our region.

But I think Aster is a really great, a great choice both for its aesthetic appeal, but then also for the ecological benefits, both bees and then all sorts of other insects really love it. Was Gilea on that list? Gilea was actually. It was the most attractive the first year and then was really high up there the second year as well. So that's a native annual and it has these really beautiful kind of poofy blue flowers and lots of bumblebees loved it as well as smaller native bees. And yeah, it's really easy to grow. You just kind of spread the seed. It pops up itself seeds readily. But then if you don't want that, you can obviously just kind of deadhead them in the garden before, before they go to seed. But yeah, I know they're great native annual. That's really colorful.

Speaker 1: I know the last one you mentioned on that top five list in the second year was facility. And I think if you've been around bees, you understand people really like this plant as a pollinator plant, but tell us a little bit of what this plant is and what it looks like. Yeah.

Speaker 2: So my facility is facility head rough by the file. So and it's a, it has this, you know, I think really beautiful structure. It has this Scorpioids scyme kind of curls, I guess, scorpion's tail, I guess, and it has these little cream colored flowers. But what really dominates is it's kind of fuzzy green. I guess the trichomes on the outside of the plant. And some people wish for a more showy plant, but I think that it's really cool structurally. And I know some gardeners include it kind of as a, as a counterbalance, you know, you might have a really showy, beautiful, colorful plant, and then the facility can kind of provide an interesting structure amongst that. And it's also pretty easy to grow from seed and it's just really heavily visited by, by bumblebees. They just love it. So I think that's a really great high value plant to include in plantings.

Speaker 1: You know, coming back to this, I, I know I was at the bee vent this year and Dr. Longolato presented some of your results. Yeah. And I, you had a really interesting study where you asked gardeners to rank plants aesthetically. And I remember seeing poor facility was like, not on the top of gardeners list, but you just have a really, tell us a little bit about that. But I thought you had a really great way of taking a plant like this and maybe an isolation. If you were just like, to see it in a mug shot lineup, you would be like, maybe not, but you could, you could, you could actually fit it into an overall design.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I think that's a really great point. Yeah. So the second component to my study, besides looking at the insect communities associated with all of these plants is going back to what we were talking about early, is we don't just want plants that are attractive to bees and other beneficial insects. We also want plants that gardeners will actually want to plant. So I did a online survey that I distributed to gardeners and I think we had about 550 responses, which was, which was great.

I was really happy with that. So anybody out there who took my survey, thank you so much. But I just had a photo of the plant and I just asked them on a one to five scale, a Lycord scale, how attractive do you find this plant? And also on a one to five scale, how likely would you be to plant this flower in your garden? And it was interesting to see the results because a lot of the plants that were the most attractive to gardeners were the least attractive to pollinators. So like Western red, Columbine, Oregon, Iris, Lluide grass, which I totally get. They're really gorgeous flowers, but we just haven't seen a lot of pollinator visitation on those. But Gilea capatata actually, it jumped, it was in the top five for both pollinators and gardeners.

So Gilea is a solid choice. But a lot of those native plants still were about, you know, a four out of five. So I think they're still really attractive.

And for poor facility, which was the only one that scored below a three out of five, I think it might have been like a two and a half out of five. I think that yeah, in isolation, when you, like you said, when you're looking at its mug shot, it might not be the most attractive plant, but I think it has a lot to offer. You know, people like planting different plants for different reasons, right? There's ground covers that, you know, you use for, you know, the cover areas, you know, underneath, you know, maybe walkways or underneath larger plants. And if you just had a photo of one of those ground covers, you might think it was really ugly.

And I think that facility, you know, when it's grown with other plants, you know, providing, you know, the really unique structure that it does, that it really, it does have a place in the garden. Yeah.

Speaker 1: I was just thinking of like some of the most famous rock hits. If you just listen to the tambourine track, it's like, man, it sucks.

Speaker 2: This is no good. I don't like tambourines. Actually I like guitar solo's better, but actually the tambourine goes with the guitar solo. Exactly. And I think that a lot of people who are interested in planting with natives are ecologically minded. And I think that they appreciate the aesthetic beauty that is unique to our native plants and that especially when you grow them together, maybe you have a pollinator meadow of natives and you have some cool colored ones, you know, like Poppy, for example, or Gilea. But then you also have ones like Facilia that provide really interesting structure together. Holistically, they make this just really aesthetically pleasing palette. Yeah. So I think that that's a great way to look at it.

Speaker 1: Well, you know, I remember Dr. Longolato also bringing up this idea of ecological, you know, just, it's a couple of things have happened. I remember talking to a nursery grower. Actually it was US hockey brothers, a nursery who's also one of the flagship farm growers.

Oh, and we had her on a episode, Kathleen Bowman. And I think what she pointed out is that for younger consumers, it's not enough just to have a plant that looks good, that the market is shifting towards people who want a plant that looks good and, you know, has environmental function. Like that's a real important quality to a lot of new consumers.

Speaker 2: Totally. And I think that's something that we're hoping to be able to share with my research is, you know, get this information out to native plant growers so that they might be able to market some of these plants as, you know, pollinator friendly plants and kind of help them decide maybe which, which plants to, to, to potentially grow and market the ones that are attractive to both pollinators and to gardeners, I think have a lot of promise, hopefully at least in the, in a retail setting.

Speaker 1: Now you're going into, I know there's, you've got a big following here in Oregon. I think people are really excited as you research. And it's of course, people who don't know this, there's the garden ecology website.

It's a great website and you'll find a lot of Aaron's research there as well as Dr. Langolato's. But I, you have a big following and people are probably the burning questions of what are you going to do now? Like you've got another field season ahead of you. What's next?

Speaker 2: That's a great question. So yeah, the big thing on my plate right now is gearing up for my third field season. I was up there just the other week doing some weeding and my strawberry plots are just beginning to bloom. So from now probably until September, I'm going to be busy sampling this year. And I'm really excited because I think that having this third season of data will really help. You know, I think in my data so far, there's a story that's beginning to be told. You see a lot of the same names popping up, a lot of the same flower species on different, you know, attractiveness net lists, both for my samples and also for my observations. So I'm really excited about this third field season because I think it'll help kind of solidify that a little bit and kind of account for some of the, you know, temporal variation that you see across these types of ecological studies.

And then sorting all of my samples in the lab, both finishing up last years as well as this year's. So, you know, I haven't really shared any data on anything besides bees yet just because I don't have that yet. And I'm really, really excited to see how attractive these plants are to parasitoids in particular, just kind of a personal interest, but then also other beneficial insects like predators, lady beetles, lace wings, and that also pests.

You know, I think that when we're recommending these plants to home gardeners, if we're saying, this is a great pollinator plant, but then we also found way more cucumber beetles or way more aphids, something like that on that plant. You could say that. You're right. It rank it down a little bit. It's just important information to include.

Like if you're concerned about cucumber beetles in your yard, maybe you don't want to include this plant. So what I'm doing right now is just trying to work through my samples still from last year furiously. And yeah, it's really fun to see all of the different types of insects I get to learn every day because I'll see some insects that I have no idea what it is.

Speaker 1: And I can confirm this. Aaron works just around the corner for me, and I'm always walking by there and he's always furiously under my microscope, like sorting through things.

Speaker 2: So it looks like a big task. Yeah. I think I was calculating it. Definitely have over a thousand sample bags or I will have had to sort through.

Speaker 1: But yeah, so then that's the next, the next big step is to collate all that data and start analyzing it and seeing, you know, what other insects are being attracted to these plants.

And I'm excited to kind of get some ideas on some of these parasitoid species as well. But that's going to keep me busy for the foreseeable future. Fantastic. Well, let's take it and we want to catch up with you after it's all concluded.

But let's take a quick break here and I want to ask you the same questions I ask all my listeners. Great. All right, here we go. All right, we're back. Do you have a book recommendation?

Speaker 2: A book that I really love and I'm sure it's been recommended before is the Bees in Your Backyard book. Oh, good. It's just amazing. It's an amazing resource for learning about bees for the layperson or the graduate student in my case, you know, and there's just beautiful photos up close of all of these different bee species information about habitats and functional traits. I think it's just a really wonderful book. I saw Gail had a copy about a year ago and then I immediately went out and I just won at Palace.

Speaker 1: One, two. I got one on each shelf. There you go. You can lend one out and then have one for yourself. Everybody should have two. That's really a great book. I really love that one.

No, it is great. And I do like the natural history. Like you can get a good, not only can you see the bees, but it does tell you a little bit about each. It gives you not an overwhelming amount, but just written in such a clear, kind of almost playful style.

Speaker 2: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. It's way more than just like a key or something like that. There's just a wealth of information that's really approachable, I think.

Speaker 1: Well, that's a great recommendation. And it reminds me of a question I was going to ask you earlier talking about the honey bees that, you know, sort of overwhelm some of the plants. How do you tell a honey bee for listeners who don't know how to do this? How do you tell a honey bee from other bees?

Speaker 2: Yeah, that's a great question. So honey bees are pretty distinct because they're, they're a certain size and a certain shape. They're generally kind of this yellowish, kind of yellow, orange color.

Some of them can be a little bit darker and they have really distinct stripes on their abdomen. And then usually you see, especially in my plots, if you're near a honey bee hive, you'll see a lot of them, you know, a lot more than some of the solitary native bees. And then the native bees, they range in, you know, from huge bumble bees down to really, you know, really tiny bees as well. So there's a much greater size variation than you see in honey bees. They're all pretty uniform, that kind of yellowish color with distinct stripes.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And it's like not a yellow, yellow, like a yellow jacket. It is a kind of like, it's almost like a leather color or something. And I know it varies. You can get some grayish one. They're different races, but they do look, there's, you're right. There's really, if you look at a honey bee, go right now, if you don't know how to do this, just go to your, go to Google and look it up. There really isn't anything that looks like it.

Speaker 2: No, yeah. It's really distinct bee. Really nothing to compare it with exactly. Okay.

Speaker 1: So the next question I have is, do you have a go-to tool? Is it your Canon?

Speaker 2: That actually should be my answer. I would say honestly, yeah, the insect vacuum. I was going to say, as boring as it sounds, the dissecting scope, but I think thanks for answering that for me. The insect vacuum is my go-to tool. Go ahead.

Speaker 1: Okay. So tell, how do you modify a leaf blower and turn it into a sucker? Great question.

Speaker 2: Somebody else did it for me. There is companies that kind of retrofit these leaf blowers, but you can actually do it at home. If you have a leaf blower that has a reversible motor, so it sucks in instead of sucking out, you can just get a normal one. And then over the tip of the leaf blower, you can rubber band an insect net, essentially, just like a little bag. And then you can pass it over a plant while it's running and quickly bag it up before everything can escape. And then you too can sample with an insect vacuum. But it's a great tool for me because it's not very destructive to the plants. So occasionally, I might suck up a petal or two, but it really just gets the insects. And if I was using a hand net on my plots, I would just, you know. Scare half of them away. Yeah, I would scare half of them away and probably damage the flowers, which would compromise, you know, going back the next week to sample from them. So to get a really interesting cross-section of insect community.

Speaker 1: You know, I always think some of these methods that are, you know, the go beyond dry, like you, when you're looking at a plant, you may see these things, but when you like vacuum everything, you get all sorts of small creatures that you probably would have missed.

Speaker 2: Oh my gosh. Yeah. Like globular springtails and all sorts of thrips and lots of things that I spend a lot of time taking out and putting in vials. Yeah, it's really cool to see.

Speaker 1: You can see the delight on Erin's face. Well, tell us a little bit. Our last question is, do you have a, I mean, there's so many pollinators that you've passed through your hands. Is there one that in particular you take great delight when you see it?

Speaker 2: That's a great question. I take a lot of delight out of the long horn bees. I really like the usura and the melisodes. I just love the males really long antenna and make me smile every time I see them. I'd say that I wish that we saw more butterfly species on my plots, but occasionally we see some sort of like little hair streak, which I'm also really excited by. Yeah. So I don't have a lot of data on butterflies, but I get really excited when I see, I see one on my plots. Yeah.

Speaker 1: And that does remind me, we do need to, I saw Dr. David James at WSU and I really need to get him on. He's got that great also on the bookshelf, the butterflies of the cascades. Really great. And it's, because then it's like, it's just this whole other world of all the host plants, which is like a totally different question.

Speaker 2: Totally. And that's actually to loop back to our, the beginning of our conversation. Another great reason to plant a diverse suite of native plants is, you know, for bees, it's not important for their, you know, developmental stage, but for a lot of our native butterflies, you know, having, you know, their obligate feeders on certain plants when they're caterpillars. So it's important to have larval host plants for native butterflies. So that's another reason why there's no, you know, one pollinator plant to rule them all. Okay.

Speaker 1: And I just, but your favorite, your favorite one would be these fuzzy, fast long horn bees. Yes. Which I guess the spring usura should be popping out here pretty soon. Probably.

Yeah. Maybe a month will be starting to see them there. I've seen them in the valley on things like Manzanita and they just have really long males have like a white clippies. It looks like they have a white mustache and they have these really long, long antenna.

Speaker 2: Yeah, totally. And I see a lot of those on, on Fasilia as well as the bumble bees. So I definitely keep my eye out for that. Okay.

Speaker 1: Well, listeners, you can see all of Aaron's choices on the show notes. Thanks for taking time out of preparing for your third field season to join us in pollination.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. I'm gonna really appreciate it.

Speaker 1: Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

In this episode, Aaron Anderson, a Ph.D. student in the OSU Department of Horticulture, talks about his research on gardening with native plants. Under the direction of Dr. Gail Langellotto, Aaron is researching native plants that support ecosystem services; that gardeners find attractive, and that they would want.

Currently, Aaron is running a large field trial at OSU’s North Willamette Research Center studying 23 native Willamette Valley wildflower species. Aaron monitors the floral bloom, performs timed pollinator observations, and samples the insect community on each plot. Additionally, he is currently asking gardeners to rank the aesthetics of these flowers via an online survey. From this research, Aaron plans on developing pollinator-friendly planting lists of PNW native wildflowers that are also attractive to home gardeners.

Listen in to learn what native plants are best for your garden, both for increasing the health of local pollinators and adding beauty to your garden.

You can Subscribe and Listen to PolliNation on Apple Podcasts.

And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!

“There have been very few studies that have been done on the relative attractiveness of different plants to pollinators, especially in a garden-type setting.” – Aaron Anderson

Show Notes:

  • What makes a study like Aaron’s necessary, even with the abundance of free information online
  • Why there is no “superplant” for pollinator gardens
  • Why Aaron chose to study native plants in garden spaces for increasing the health of pollinators
  • How Aaron crafted his study, and what steered his decisions
  • Why the results of two similar studies on the most attractive plants to pollinators came out so different
  • Why native plants are so crucial in attracting honeybees
  • Which plants were found to be the top five for attracting pollinators to your garden
  • How Aaron sees less aesthetically desirable plants adding to the beauty of your garden
  • How the market is shifting from purely aesthetic decisions for gardens towards more functional ideas
  • What’s next for Aaron and his research
  • How you can tell a honeybee apart from other bees

“The nice thing about a lot of these annuals is that if you don’t like how they like after or right before they go to seed, you can really easily just pull them out.” – Aaron Anderson

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