When is a native not a native? Preliminary results of pollinator visitation to native Penstemon digitalis and its cultivated varieties

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Imeña Valdes, Christian Acevedo, Tawny Hawthorne , Jessamine Finch , Kay Havens

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Native plants are being bred and modified for better horticultural performance and appearance. The cultivated varieties of native plants (i.e. nativars) are now used broadly in horticulture and sometimes restoration, particularly smaller scale projects. However, selection for horticulturally desirable traits such as novel floral forms and colors, and altered phenology, can lead to changes in floral attractiveness and rewards for pollinators. In the summer of 2019, Penstemon digitalis and several of their nativars (‘Husker Red’, ‘Pocahontas’, Blackbeard’) were studied. The floral trait variation and pollinator attraction was compared. Preferences of different groups of floral visitors were determined through monitoring of phenology, pollinator observations, and floral trait measurements. We found that all Penstemon have roughly the same first and end flower times, and peak between 180 to 185 days (Julian date). When more flowers are open, there is a corresponding peak in pollinator visitation. Both wild type and ‘Pocahontas’ have more open flowers and receive a higher average of pollinator visits per minute compared to the other taxa. Floral morphology is a distinct factor in pollinator diversity. Smaller flowers, such as ‘Blackbeard’ and ‘Husker Red’, attract small bees and flies whereas the larger flowers, wild type and ‘Pocahontas’, attract more bumblebees, large bees, and wasps. These results suggest that pollinator visitation varies between Penstemon digitalis and its nativars, primarily as a result of flflower size.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program