Decreasing honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) populations are becoming a nationwide concern with numerous consequences, including inadequate pollination of several crop species (Calderone, 2012; Gallai et al., 2009; Kevan and Phillips, 2001). Therefore, it is important to investigate crop production systems that incorporate companion plantings that attract honeybees and other pollinators to agricultural crops. Even though a diverse plant community is important to support and maintain pollinator populations, these conditions are lacking from many heavily managed farm and urban landscapes (Williams et al., 2010; Winfree et al., 2011). Therefore, increasing biodiversity with the addition of pollinator-attracting plants adjacent to crop species could result in larger and more diverse populations of pollinators around those crops.
Even though the addition of companion plantings to crops has been known to increase insect diversity, further research is needed to determine if crop yield can also be reliably increased in those systems (Haaland et al., 2011). Similarly, to support more abundant and diverse pollinator populations and simultaneously improve crop yields, research has suggested that the planting of floral restoration plant varieties to attract pollinators and help “export” them to adjacent crop fields can be effective (Morandin and Kremen, 2013). However, the selection of proper companion plants that flower in synchrony with a particular crop and meet the requirements of the particular growing conditions of the region needs to be investigated more extensively to maximize pollination and crop yield (Quinn et al., 2017).
Across heterogeneous landscapes, pollinator abundance and pollinator diversity typically correlate with floral diversity and density (Potts et al., 2003). Julier and Roulston (2009) found that, provided a farm was not located in an intensively farmed region, wild pollinators alone were sufficient to pollinate pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.) crops. Therefore, the following question arose: would adding pollinator-attracting plant species, thereby transforming a given area into a more heterogeneous landscape, attract sufficient pollinators to successfully pollinate a crop without the addition of managed honeybee hives? Previous studies have investigated similar questions, but none has directly quantified differences in yield. Barbir et al. (2015) tested multiple herbaceous plants, including borage (Borago officinalis), to find suitable plant species in Spain with the ability to attract pollinators in agro-ecosystems. Carreck and Williams (2002) found that the addition of annual flowering plants (including B. officinalis) to noncropped areas of field production provided nectar and pollen sources to pollinators, even during the offseason. Thom et al. (2016) found that the addition of oilseed crops, including borage, to soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] and maize (Zea mays L.) crops provided a supplemental nectar resource for pollinators and a high-value crop for farmers.
Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), an herbaceous perennial groundcover, is widely known regionally as a pollinator-attracting plant (Redhage and McDermott, 2015). Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ is a reliable herbaceous perennial sage originating in Texas that is known for its butterfly-attracting season-long blooms (Texas Superstar Program, 2016). Sea oxeye (Borrichia frutescens) is tolerant of periodic flooding and salty high pH soils; it is a small evergreen to semi-evergreen shrub native to the southern U.S. coastal regions that attracts pollinators (Gilman, 1999). Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana) is a small deciduous shrub that is native to Texas and is known for its recurrent flushes of pollinator-attracting flowers (Arnold, 2008). In addition to borage (B. officinalis), which was previously discussed, annual pollinator-attracting plants with small to medium statures reported to attract pollinators and grow well in gardens of the region include cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), zinnias (Zinnia ×marylandica), and basil (Ocimum basilicum) (Arnold, 2008).
Cucumber is highly dependent on pollinators for fruit set (University of Georgia Honey Bee Program, 2019). Increased visitation of pollinators has been shown to increase fruit set of C. chinense (Cauich et al., 2006). Several cultivars of cucumbers are commercially grown in Texas (Masabni, 2010). Cucumbers and peppers are among the more popular vegetables for residential gardeners in Texas (Cotner, 1998). Texas ranks third in national production of hot peppers (Food and Drug Administration, 2016). The objective of this study was to evaluate the impact of pollinator-attracting perennial plants compared with both pollinator-attracting annual plants and plots lacking pollinator-attracting plants (control plots) on cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and habanero (Capsicum chinense) crop yields and fruit quality.
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