Diverse floral resources impart immense value for pollinating insects of all types. With increasing popularity and demand for modern ornamental hybrids, cultivation by breeders has led to selection for a suite of traits such as extended bloom periods and novel colors and forms deemed attractive to the human eye. Largely understudied is pollinator preference for these new cultivars, as compared with their native congeners. To address this gap in understanding, 10 species of popular herbaceous flowering plants, commonly labeled as pollinator-friendly, were evaluated at two sites in Florida [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cold hardiness zones 8b and 9a] and across three seasons for their floral abundance and overall attractiveness to different groups of pollinating insects. Each genus, apart from pentas, encompassed a native and nonnative species. Native species included blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella), lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), pineland lantana (Lantana depressa), and scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea). Nonnative species included Barbican™ yellow-red ring blanket flower (G. aristata ‘Gaiz005’), Bloomify™ rose lantana (L. camara ‘UF-1011-2’), mysty salvia (S. longispicata ×farinacea ‘Balsalmysty’), Lucky Star® dark red pentas (Pentas lanceolata ‘PAS1231189’), ruby glow pentas (P. lanceolata ‘Ruby glow’) and Uptick™ Gold & Bronze coreopsis (Coreopsis × ‘Baluptgonz’). Flower-visiting insects were recorded during five-minute intervals in the morning and categorized into the following morpho-groups: honey bees, large-bodied bees (bumble and carpenter bees), other bees (small to medium-bodied native bees), butterflies/moths, and wasps. Floral abundance and pollinator visitation varied widely by season, location, and species. Of the plant species evaluated, nonnative plants produced nearly twice as many flowers as native plants. About 22,000 floral visitations were observed. The majority of visits were by native, small to medium-bodied bees (55.28%), followed by butterflies and moths (15.4%), large-bodied native bees (11.8%), wasps (10.0%), and honey bees (7.6%). Among plant genera, both native and nonnative coreopsis and blanket flower were most attractive to native, small to medium-bodied bees (e.g., sweat bees, leafcutter bees) with the greatest number of visitations occurring during the early and midmonths of the study (May–August). Across the study, butterflies and moths visited lantana more frequently than all other ornamentals evaluated, whereas pentas were most attractive to wasps. Large-bodied bees visited plants most frequently in May and June, primarily foraging from both native and nonnative salvia. While results from this study showed nominal differences between native and nonnative species in their ability to attract the studied pollinator groups, care should be taken to making similar assessments of other modern plant types.
Consumer demand for novel, visually attractive ornamentals has often overshadowed the functional value plants may provide for flower-visiting insects. As native and nonnative species are hybridized for form, color, flowering, and disease resistance, it is important to assess whether some of these alterations influence plant nutrient quality for foraging insect pollinators. A study was conducted to ascertain the resource value of ornamental cultivars compared with their native congeners. The nectar volume and pollen quantity, viability, and protein content of 10 species of popular herbaceous flowering plants, commonly advertised as pollinator-friendly, were evaluated in northcentral Florida. Each genus encompassed a native and nonnative species, apart from pentas. Native species included blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella), lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), pineland lantana (Lantana depressa), and scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea). Nonnative species included Barbican™ yellow-red ring blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata ‘Gaiz005’), Bloomify™ rose lantana (Lantana camara ‘UF-1011-2’), mysty salvia (Salvia longispicata × farinacea ‘Balsalmysty’), Lucky Star® dark red pentas (Pentas lanceolata ‘PAS1231189’), ruby glow pentas (Pentas lanceolata ‘Ruby glow’) and UpTick™ Gold & Bronze coreopsis (Coreopsis × ‘Baluptgonz’). Floral rewards differed significantly across species. The native scarlet sage exhibited the largest nectar volume per flower in the summer (2.13 ± 0.17 µL), followed by the nonnative mysty salvia (1.26 ± 0.17 µL). In the fall, ruby glow pentas exhibited the largest nectar volume per flower (1.09 ± 0.17 µL) compared with all other ornamentals. The composite flowers of the native and nonnative blanket flower and coreopsis species had the lowest nectar volume per flower regardless of sampling date. Likewise, ruby glow pentas displayed the highest quantity of pollen grains (96.29 ± 0.12) per sample, followed by Lucky star pentas (52.33 ± 0.12), and Barbican blanket flower (50.98 ± 0.12). Pollen viability was similarly high (92% to 98%) among all species, apart from Bloomify rose lantana (20%) and pineland lantana (48%). Pollen protein content was highest in Uptick coreopsis (11.378 ± 1.860 μg/mg dry weight) and Lucky star pentas (10.656 ± 3.726 μg/mg dry weight), followed by lanceleaf coreopsis (7.918 ± 1.793 μg/mg dry weight). These results largely showed that the nonnative ornamentals selected provided resource-rich floral rewards, comparable to native congeners. Still, care should be taken in making similar assessments of other modern floral types.