University of Sussex
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Most ornamental plants on sale in garden centres are unattractive to flower-visiting insects

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posted on 2023-06-09, 14:50 authored by Mihail Garbuzov, Karin AltonKarin Alton, Francis Ratnieks
Background Gardeners and park managers seeking to support biodiversity in urban areas often plant ornamentals attractive to flower-visiting insects. There is a huge diversity of garden plant varieties, and some recommendations are available as to which are attractive to insects. However, these are largely not based on rigorous empirical data. An important factor in consumer choice is the range of varieties available for purchase. In the UK, garden centres are a key link in the supply chain between growers and private gardens. This study is the first to determine the proportions of flowering ornamentals being sold that are attractive to flower-visiting insects. Methods We surveyed six garden centres in Sussex, UK, each over two days in 2015, by making 12 counts of insects visiting patches of each ornamental plant on display for sale that was in bloom. To provide a consistent baseline among different locations, we brought with us and surveyed marjoram (Origanum vulgare) plants in pots, which are known to be attractive to a wide range of flower-visiting insects. The attractiveness of plant varieties to insects was then expressed in two ways: the absolute number and relative to that on marjoram (‘marjoram score’), both per unit area of plant cover. In addition, we noted whether each variety was recommended as pollinator-friendly either via a symbol on the label, or by being included in the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ list. Furthermore, we compared the attractiveness of plants that are typically grown for more than one year versus only one year. Results We surveyed 59–74 plant varieties in bloom across the six garden centres. In each garden centre, the distributions of variety attractiveness were highly skewed to the right, with most varieties being relatively unattractive, and few varieties highly attractive to flower-visiting insects. The median attractiveness of varieties with a recommendation was 4.2× higher than that of varieties without. But, due to the large variation there was a substantial number of both poor varieties that had a recommendation and good varieties that did not. Median attractiveness of multi-year plants was 1.6× that of single-year plants, with a similar overlap in distributions. Discussion Our study demonstrates the practicality of carrying out plant surveys in garden centres. Garden centres display large numbers of varieties for sale, most of which are in bloom. Furthermore, data gathered in garden centres appear to correlate well with data gathered in two previous studies in Sussex for plants established in gardens. Although it is unclear whether the varieties being sold in garden centres are a fair representation of varieties that are actually grown by gardeners, our results suggest that there might be considerable scope for making parks and gardens considerably more insect-friendly through judicious variety choices.


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  • Evolution, Behaviour and Environment Publications

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  • Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects Publications

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