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Garden plants for flower-visiting insects-- quantifying variation in attractiveness

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Published on Oct 18, 2013

Bees and other pollinating insects are declining in many countries. Many people are concerned and want to help reverse this decline, but do not know how. One way that the general public can help is via their gardens, by growing ornamental plants that are also attractive to flower-visiting insects. Although individual gardens are relatively small, collectively they comprise a substantial area. But which plant varieties are attractive to flower-visiting insects? Given the great public interest, many lists of recommended plants have recently been produced, but where did this information come from? On a closer look, it appears that these lists are based largely on personal experiences, opinions and anecdotes.

This study is an attempt to put these recommendations on a firmer scientific footing. We planted an experimental garden of summer-flowering garden plants on the University of Sussex campus. All varieties were easy to purchase and considered attractive to humans.

Our results also compared different varieties of the same plant type. In the case of Dahlia, varieties with open flowers were much more attractive than those with "cactus" or "pom-pom" flowers, in which the pollen and nectar producing areas were reduced and inaccessible. In the case of lavenders, the traditional blue colour was not better than white or pink. However, the hybrid Lavandula × intermedia varieties attracted more insects than the species L. angustifolia, possibly because they were larger and had more blooms.

Flowers attractive to bees and other insects are attractive from a human perspective and are no harder to grow or more expensive. Therefore, choosing insect-attractive varieties over less attractive varieties is a zero cost option, and is a practical and simple way of helping bees and other flower-visiting insects in gardens and parks.

You can read the paper free online here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10...
Or the lay summary (for general audiences) here: http://bit.ly/1gqbck6

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