What’s the first thing people see when approaching a house? The parking strip.
What is often the ugliest, most barren part of a yard? The parking strip!
The parking strip, often called a “Hell Strip”, is a tough landscaping challenge. Narrowly linear, sun-baked, hard to water, often compacted, subject to foot, dog and other traffic…what self-respecting plant would want to grow there?
This is why parking strip “landscaping” tends to default to lawn, mulch, or gravel.
But there’s another option. For every habitat there are plants to match, so if you want a garden in your hell strip, choose plants that LIKE it hot and dry, and are compact in size. Careful design and plant selection can result in a parking strip that is a beautiful asset, rather than a barren wasteland.
As a bonus, many plants that are suitable for planting in a parking strip are also great for pollinators. There are many Oregon native plants that can thrive in such conditions, and since native plants are generally best for pollinators, why not dedicate your parking strip to growing mostly native plants in a beautiful pollinator garden?
Tips for Success
- Provide a paved landing or path for exiting cars.
- Don’t obscure utility covers with plants.
- Before planting, loosen the soil and dig in compost. It can be worth spending a year or two improving the soil, if it is very bad.
- Plant in fall if possible, to give plants all winter to grow strong roots before having to cope with summer heat and dry.
- Be patient – it may take some trial and error to find the best plants for your parking strip.
Choose the Right Plants
- Low water needs
- Persistent (bulbs, perennials, low shrubs)
- Compact and tidy form
- Attractive foliage
- Variety of textures, shapes and colors
- Varied bloom times over long season
In Jen’s post a couple of weeks ago, http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2020/03/14/how-do-we-know-what-flowers-bees-like/, she listed flower characteristics that bees and butterflies are attracted to. Here’s a short list of plants that feature these characteristics, AND are good candidates for a parking strip planting.
PNW Native Flowers
Achillea millefolium (common yarrow)
Allium cernuum (nodding onion)
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick, bearberry)
Balsamorhiza deltoidea (balsamroot, mule’s ears)
Clarkia amoena (godetia, farewell to spring)
Deschampsia cespitosa (tufted hairgrass)
Eriophyllum lanatum (Oregon sunshine)
Eschscholzia californica (California poppy)
Fragaria chiloensis or vesca (beach or woods strawberry)
Gaillardia aristata (blanketflower)
Gilia capitata (globe gilia)
Iris tenax (tough-leaved iris)
Lupinus formosus (western lupine)
Madia elegans (showy tarweed)
Phacelia spp (phacelia)
Plectritis congesta (Seablush)
Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’ (broadleaf stonecrop)
Symphyotrichum/Aster subspicatum (Douglas aster)
You can also add compatible non-native plants, that are also attractive to pollinators.
Bulbs for early bloom: Crocus, Iris reticulata, species tulips
Perennials, Low Shrubs, and Ornamental grasses
Achillea ‘Moonshine’ (yarrow)
Callirhoe involucrata (wine cups)
Caryopteris (blue mist shrub)
Coreopsis grandiflora (largeflower tickseed)
Dianthus ‘Allwoodii’, ‘Flashing Lights’ and others (pinks)
Epilobium (Zauschneria) spp (hummingbird trumpet, Calif. Fuchsia)
Nepeta cvs (catmint)
Perovskia (Russian sage)
Thymus ‘Elfin’, ‘Archer’s Gold’ ‘Doone Valley’, red creeping
Read this article to learn:
- The diversity of crops grown in space
- First food crop grown in space (onion)
- What ‘lightsicles’ are
- NASA and air purification
- Space Seeds™
- The primary problem facing astroculture (irrigation) and why (microgravity)
- First space-grown vegetable eaten in space (lettuce)
- Expansion of production area in astrocultural trials (1000x increase)
Astroculture: growing food in space! ‘Sure, cool concept,’ you might be thinking, ‘but what does this have to do with garden ecology?’ Well, the tight confines onboard spacecraft are more constraining than most any compact, dense city on Earth could claim. Perhaps only those in capsule-style housing can begin to appreciate the cramped living quarters of astronauts.
The effort to grow food in space is about more than creating a system which can reduce the need for supply shuttles from Earth. Astroculture is the proving ground for compact, synthetic production environments. Any experiments are as isolated as possible. This has resulted in NASA (or the National Aeronautics Space Administration) and other space agencies playing a central role in the development of new technologies to support the growth of plants in artificial conditions.
From 1970 to the present there have been:
- 21 plant growth chamber design systems
- 50 different cultivation experiments
- across ~40 species
The first food crop grown in space were onions in July, 1975, by cosmonauts Klimuk and Sevastianov during the Salyut space program of the Soviet Union. They aimed a few bulbs from the crew’s on-board lighting system at the seeded trays, but nothing more. Some plants did germinate, and for the first plants humans have put in space, that’s a significant enough accomplishment on its own. One of the limitations to this and all the other experiments at this time were the short flight durations. Only two years previous, the record time in space was set at just eight weeks—by the United States.
NASA pioneered research into intra-canopy lighting with a technique they called ‘lightsicles’—poles of lights which lit ever-higher as the plants grew taller. This idea itself isn’t new. Experiments ‘on the ground’ had shown that shading out lower leaves will lead to senescence or the decay and loss of those leaves.
See, the problem wasn’t in supplying the right spectrum of light—controlled conditions in space quickly produced plants with lush growth in their upper canopy. The problem they quickly realized was a shading out and subsequent decay and loss of leaves below the plant canopy. Lights like high-pressure sodium or metal halide were simply too hot to be placed within the plant canopy itself. This heat also meant there was significant distance between light source and plant. This empty space between light and plant was the most the aeronautic agencies were willing to sacrifice to carry out these agricultural experiments. They definitely were not going to now account for empty space between lights on multiple sides of a plant’s growing area!
The scientists at NASA were ready and waiting for something better. They quickly embraced emerging technologies like LEDs for all the same reasons Earth-bound producers have: they’re energetically efficient with little waste heat all in a compact design. This lighting design and strict need for density meant NASA also found itself on the frontier of vertical farming innovations.
Experiments in astroculture, of growing plants in space, mostly boil down to understanding plant function in microgravity. Be this on a shuttle, station, Luna, or Mars, all locations exert less gravitational force than the Earth.
In 1982 Arabidopsis was successfully grown seed-to-seed in space then germinated back on Earth. This was proof of concept, plant life off-planet was possible. But the success rate was only about half, and all with a simple, model plant. This is like sending mice into space before chimps or humans. Subsequent experiments of greater scope found microgravity seriously impedes and sometimes even alters plant physiology.
Now, let’s talk about carbon dioxide for a second. Plants breathe the air, just like us, but they’ve got a use for CO2: it plays a key role in photosynthesis. Atmospheric enrichment of CO2 within closed production environments has been practiced since the 1970s. A limited set of experiments in 1989 found CO2 supplementation also improved a great number of factors in microgravity. But this might not be so groundbreaking or critical to astroculture. This is still well before the current field of controlled environment agriculture had developed. We now see carbon dioxide as key to increasing plant growth but also recognize a number of other inherently limiting factors within artificial environments. Put shortly: most plants, on terra firma or in outer space, do better with CO2 supplementation.
What has emerged as uniquely problematic in microgravity is irrigation. Maintaining a reliable range of moisture in the root zone has become the critical adaptation of astrocultural production. I’m sure we’re all familiar with water adhesion and its surface tension. On the planet’s surface, adhesion and tension are frequently dwarfed by the force of gravity itself. This pulls water into the soil, pulls water through the soil, and actually plays a large part in the water cycle itself. In microgravity, adhesion and tension begin to exert their dominance. It’s difficult to direct and instead will cling to most surfaces it touches. So when water is applied to the root zone, it clings to the roots. Many plants end up anoxic: they’ve drowned in their flooded conditions.
The latest developments are using porous tubes and/or plates to slow the delivery of water and nutrients. It seems like, if we can’t stop water from coating everything it touches, the plan is to greatly restrict its flow and access to non-target areas. A slow osmosis via a clay pipe works as a bottleneck to prevent drowning.
In the early 2000s on board the International Space Station, astronauts successfully completed two generations–that’s seed-to-seed,-to-seed—of soy: Space Seeds™. Ok, they’re not really trademarked, but it’s fun to call them ‘space seeds.’
On August 10, 2015, NASA astronauts were officially allowed to eat space-grown produce for the first time: some leaves of lettuce.
In addition to innovative irrigation control techniques, the latest astrocultural experiments have just recently begun to increase in scale. The first growing area, in 1971, was a mere 10cm2. Little gains were made until 2014 when they achieved 1700cm2 of production area by using an ‘inflatable’ model which astronauts assembled once in outer space. The latest plans utilize a vertical racking system and aim for a full square meter (10,000 cm2).
Well, that’s a lengthy enough primer on growing plants in space. There’s plenty more to be told and a wealth of discoveries yet to be made. If you’re interested in some further reading, perhaps try some of these options.
A grand summary of astroculture is nicely reported in Zabel et al. (2016) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lssr.2016.06.004
Read a report from NASA (2010): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/10-074.html
Space Gardening with NASA: https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/news-articles/space-gardening
There are some visually pleasing, incredibly informative graphics here: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20160013269.pdf
ISS: from NASA to Napa https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/ADVASC
Pollinator syndromes are the characteristics or traits of a flower that appeal to a particular pollinator. These traits often help pollinators locate flowers and the resources (e.g. pollen or nectar) that the flowers have to offer.
Syndromes include bloom color, the presence of nectar guides, scents, nectar, pollen, and flower shapes. We can use these traits to predict what pollinators might be attracted to certain flowers or we can use these tools to guide us to pick the right plant for the right pollinator!
Bees, for example, are most attracted to flowers that have white, yellow, blue, or ultra-violet blooms.
Pollinator Syndromes for Bees & Butterflies
Table adapted from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign
|Color||White, yellow, blue, UV||Red, purple|
|Odor||Fresh, mild, pleasant||Faint but fresh|
|Nectar||Usually present||Ample, deeply hidden|
|Pollen||Limited; often sticky or scented||Limited|
|Flower Shape||Shallow; with landing platform, tubular||Narrow tube with long spur; wide landing pad|
What are nectar guides?
Nectar guides are visual cues, such as patterns or darker colors in the center of a flower, that lead pollinators to nectar or pollen. These cues are beneficial to plants and their pollinators because they can reduce flower handling time, which allows bees to visit more flowers and transfer more pollen in a shorter amount of time.
Northern Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor).
The petals (yellow arrow) and sepals (red arrow) both have dark purple nectar guides. The yellow portion of the sepals may also be a nectar guide!
Image courtesy of Mike LeValley and the Isabella Conservation District Environmental Education Program
While the iris’s nectar guides are visible to humans and their pollinators, this is not always the case. Some flowers have nectar guides only visible in ultra-violet light. The video below shows how different flowers look to us (visible light), and simulates what the flowers look like to butterflies (red, green blue, and UV) and to bees (green, blue, UV).
What about pinks and purples?
Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
It’s not uncommon to see bees visiting flowers that are colors outside of their typical pollinator syndromes. In the spring in Oregon, we see bees visiting red-flowering currants, many pink and magenta rhododendrons, plum blossoms, and cherry blossoms. Lavender, catnip, and other mint-family plants too are common on pollinator planting lists, but tend to have purple flowers.
Pollinator syndromes can help us understand these anomalies. These flowers may appear differently in ultraviolet light or may have strong nectar guides that encourage bees to visit them, despite how they look to us. Alternatively, these flowers might have rich reserves of pollen and nectar that draw bee visits.
How else do we know if a flower is a good choice for bees?
Many people have developed plant lists based on personal observations, so there are many pollinator plant lists available to choose plants from. Many nurseries include pollinator attraction information with their planting guidelines too. While these are often based on anecdotal evidence, many researchers (including Aaron and I) are working to provide empirical evidence for plant selections.
To find native plants to attract bees and other pollinators, I recommend starting your plant selections by checking out your local NRCS Plant Materials program.
Many extension programs may also have regionally-appropriate plant selections! Here is the link to Oregon State’s list of native pollinator plants for home gardens in Western Oregon.
When you’re ready to buy some plants, make sure to check out this blogpost by Aaron.
As an ecologist who studies garden systems, the increasing use of native plants in urban and suburban landscaping is exciting to me (see lab member Signe Danler’s great blog post on “ecological gardening”). Unfortunately, there are still many challenges associated with growing the adoption of native plants by home gardeners, with the largest barrier simply being the lack of availability of these species. I have noticed this barrier when giving talks to the public – many home gardeners are interested in gardening with high-ecological value native plants, but don’t know where to purchase them. These anecdotal observations are backed up by peer-reviewed literature, as several studies that have investigated the use of native plants in urban landscapes identified availability as one of the major barriers to adoption.
So, if you are a gardener in Oregon interested in gardening with native plants, where do you start? The good news is that native plants are available! Most big box stores (like Home Depot) have few to no native plants. One option is to go to a large, diverse nursery, like Portland Nursery or Garland Nursery in Corvallis. Besides perusing the selection of native plants they do stock, you can always ask them if they are able to stock a native plant you are interested in. These nurseries generally have contacts with a variety of growers, and demonstrating demand for native plants may lead to nurseries stocking more of these species on the shelf.
But what if you don’t have a specific native plant in mind, or what if you are new to the native plant world? Your best bet is to go to a specialty native plant nursery. Luckily, in Oregon there are a variety of native plant growers throughout the state. Below is a (non-comprehensive) list of some of the retail options. Keep in mind that some of these nurseries grow/stock a wide variety of species, while others specialize in plants of a certain region of the state or in a certain type of plant (think trees, or shrubs). I did not include nurseries that are primarily wholesale operations.
Salem to Eugene
There are a few sources of native seed in the region. These can be easily ordered online!
You can find more information on the Oregon Flora Project’s website, where they have a tool that lists Oregon native plant nurseries, as well as a list of what each grower stocks.
Finally, another great source of native plants are native plant sales! Many Master Gardener chapters and many soil and water conservation districts put on native plant sales in the spring. Here are a few, but check with these organizations in your county and see if they have sales scheduled!
As many of you may know at this point, Aaron Anderson and Jen Hayes are conducting some amazing research regarding Oregon native plants and their pollinator attractiveness. If you haven’t had the chance to read about their research yet, check out Aaron’s here and Jens here. While those two are producing data to determine the ecological benefits derived from some of our wildflowers, I chose to go down a more selfish route and see what our native plants can do for me. . .forget the bees. Below I have compiled a list of ethnobotanical uses for 6 of the 23 Willamette Valley wildflowers included in Aarons research – California Poppy, Camas, Pearly Everlasting, Oregon Iris, Western Red Columbine, and Goldenrod (my favorite).
Before you read any further, be aware that I am not an expert in wildcraft, ethnobotany, or herbalism. Never ingest the parts of any plant without being absolutely sure of its effects on the human body. Think of this more as a jumping-off point for your own research rather than any sort of guide or expert recommendation.
California Poppy – Escholzia californica:
The California Poppy – the ubiquitous orange herald of summer can do significantly more for you than just adding a pop of color to your yard or garden. E. californica can also be used as a medicine or candy! The flower itself is high in carotenoids and slightly sweet, the whole thing can be eaten raw as a candy-like treat. The ground roots and sap of the plant can be made into tinctures or infusions and be taken as a sedative, pain reliever, and muscle relaxer. California Poppy has been used by herbal practitioners as a “safe and gentle sedative for hyperactive children”. Maybe because they had too much poppy candy earlier in the day.
Camas – Camassia leichtlinii:
Camas is perhaps one of the best known plants on this list for its very popular edible bulb. The bulb is the most useful part of the plant and can be prepared in a few different ways. The two most popular are roasting and steaming. The roasted bulb gives off a flavor similar to a potato with a little hint of sweetness. Frying or mashing the bulb after the roasting are also common options to expand the flavor. Steaming camas bulbs is another popular practice which results in a food not unlike an onion. They are gelatinous and rich in complex carbohydrates, a fully browned camas bulb is just as delicious as any caramelized onion.
Pearly Everlasting – Anaphalis margaritacea:
Pearly Everlasting, a sweet little flower that has always reminded me a bit of a brilliant white star with a bright yellow center. These little flowers could also be a star of your ethnobotanical handbook considering how useful they are! The slender green leaves can be eaten as a normal green once they have been cooked a bit, perhaps by way of steaming or sautéing. A. margaritacea also offers a whole pallet of dyes all from one plant, depending on the concentration of each, it can provide shades of yellow, green, and brown. Pearly Everlasting can be employed as treatment for a whole range of ailments. The whole plant is filled with metabolites which can act as an anodyne, antiseptic, and sedative. Internally, it can also be used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and some pulmonary affiliations. Externally, a poultice of the whole plant can be used to alleviate pain from burns, sores, ulcers, and bruises.
Oregon Iris – Iris tenax:
Oregon Iris is well known and celebrated for its floral beauty, but its grass-like leaves are often overlooked despite their usefulness. The long and immensely durable leaves can be used to make ropes or baskets. The 19th century botanist David Douglas once described Iris tenax’s leaves as “. . .in point of strength it will hold the strongest bullock and is not thicker than the little finger”. Like any craft, basket-weaving requires practice and learning, however the unique texture and color of the leaves are bound to make the product stand out among the rest.
Western Red Columbine – Aquilegia formosa:
The number of uses associated with Aquilegia formosa practically matches the number of bright red petals surrounding its cascading stamens. In terms of edibility, Western Red Columbine boasts edible leaves when boiled and a sweet nectary treat from the flowers themselves, but you have to share with the hummingbirds. Medicinally, treatments can be found from the roots, seeds, and leaves. The mashed roots can be used to relieve aching pains, for diarrhea, to counteract dizziness, and stomachaches. The chewed leaves can be used to alleviate sore throats and calm and upset stomach. Finally, a paste made from mashed seeds can be applied to the scalp to kill lice!
Goldenrod – Solidago canadensis:
Although sometimes considered cumbersome due to its amazing ability to spread, Goldenrod is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most diversely useful plants. It offers medicinal properties from its internal metabolites, edible roots and seeds, and of course Goldenrod’s signature pigmentation can be harnessed for dying. Infusions made from the flowers can offer relief from a variety of ailments, fever, flu, diarrhea, and sore throats are just some. Roots are commonly eaten smoked and seeds can be eaten roasted or raw. Finally, the flowers can bring a beautiful golden hue to any natural fiber that needs dying, just with a simple soak in warm water.
Further reading –
Western Red Columbine:
Over the past few months, I have shared data on bees and other insects that we have collected from Portland-area gardens. For every garden insect we study (except for butterflies, which can be identified to species by sight), we use lethal collection methods. This is because most insects can only be identified to species after close examination under the microscope. In fact, some insects require dissection before we can get them to species.
It seems odd that we kill bees in order to help understand how we can build gardens that can help to conserve bees. By collecting and killing bees and other insects, what role were we playing in promoting insect decline? How do projects, such as our own as well as the Oregon Bee Atlas, factor into bee declines?
That’s an excellent question, and one that we often ask ourselves. When we collect bees, we work to make sure that we are not needlessly causing harm. For example, our pan traps are good for collecting small bees, but are not good at collecting larger bees, including reproductive queens. When we hand-collect bees, we avoid taking queen bees. In fact, of the 2,716 bees that we collected in 2017-2019, only three were queens. We limited our sampling frequency to three times per year, and limited our sampling effort to 10 minutes of hand-collecting time and six pan traps, per garden. Even with these precautions, we are still faced with the question: does our research, or the research of others who collect and kill insects, harm the very species we are trying to conserve?
To address this question, I turn to the scientific literature. Gezon and colleagues set up an experiment to see whether lethal sampling for bees using pan traps and netting (the same methods we use in our research) has negative effects on bee abundance or bee diversity. For five years, they sampled nine sites every two weeks during the flowering season. They compared bee abundance and bee diversity in these repeatedly-sampled sites, to metrics from 17 comparable sites that were only sampled once. They found no significant difference in bee capture rate, bee species richness, or bee abundance between sites that were sampled repeatedly versus those that were sampled once. When they partitioned bees according to nesting habit (e.g. cavity, soil, wood, etc.), social structure (e.g. eusocial or not), and body size (e.g. small, medium, and large bees) they also found no significant differences in bee capture rates of single-sample versus repeat-sampled sites. They did catch more pollen specialists in repeated-sample sites than in single sample sites. However, the magnitude of the effect was relatively small, and did not represent a large change in catch rate between single-sample versus repeat-sampled sites. I suspect that the authors caught more pollen specialists at their repeat-sampled sites, because pollen specialists are fairly rare in time and in space. They drastically increased their odds of intercepting a pollen specialist on their repeatedly-sampled sites.
Gezon and colleagues suggest a few hypotheses that could explain why increased sampling effort had no significant effect on bee abundance or diversity. First, they suggest that reducing bee populations by sampling could benefit the bees that remain, by reducing competition for limited resources. If this is the case, bee populations can compensate for some losses due to sampling, by increasing reproduction in the bees that remain behind. Second, they note that if bees were sampled after they have mated and laid eggs, the overall impact of removing a bee from via sampling will be fairly small. Finally, they note that most bees are solitary, and that most solitary bees have short flight seasons. In this case, sampling every two weeks may not result in bee declines, if researchers are effectively collecting a new species during each sampling event.
I can breathe a bit easier. The data suggests that our research is not immediately responsible for documented bee declines. Still, I know that I can personally do more to help protect bees in my own garden. Even though our lab group studies native plants, I have not yet planted Aster subspicatus (Douglas’ Aster) in my own garden. This will be my mission for 2020: to find and plant this gorgeous perennial at home. In 2018 and 2019, it bloomed from mid June through mid November at our study plots in Aurora, OR, with peak bloom (75% or more of the plant in bloom) lasting one month! And, from 2017-2019, it was always a top five plant for native bee abundance. I give this Pacific Northwest native plant my highest recommendation for home gardens! There are plants that attract more native bees, such as Phacelia heterophylla. But, no other plant that we studied offers the triple threat of beauty, bees, and longevity.
In the Garden Ecology Lab, researchers are studying specific pieces of the garden ecology puzzle, including soil nutrient levels, pollinators, and native plants. But what exactly is “garden ecology”, and why is studying it important?
Let’s start by defining our terms. If you hear the word “garden”, some pretty specific pictures may come to mind, but it is really a very broad term, encompassing anything from pots on a patio to acres of arboretum. A garden is by definition a human-influenced system involving plants, but there are many human-influenced landscapes that are not considered gardens, such as agricultural fields (though gardens may grow food), golf courses (though a garden could include a putting green), tree farms (though many gardens have trees), and parks (though ornamental plants may grow in parks).
Brittanica defines a garden as a “Plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, vegetables, or trees are cultivated.” This suggests that the keys are variety and control. A garden is typically composed of a variety of different plants and types of spaces…not unlike a natural ecosystem! In addition, there is the element of control (cultivation). Human choice and aesthetic sensibilities strongly influence what plants grow in a garden. Even a very naturalistic garden has some human-imposed order in it, or it wouldn’t be a garden.
Now we get to “ecology”. Ecology is a relatively new natural science, with beginnings in the early 1900’s, when scientists in Europe and the U.S. began to study plant communities. At first animal and plant communities were studied separately, but eventually American biologists began to emphasize the interrelatedness of both communities.1
The word Ecology (originally oekologie) comes from the Greek oikos, meaning “household,” “home,” or “place to live”, so ecology is the study of the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment – the place they live. Brittanica further clarifies that “These interactions between individuals, between populations, and between organisms and their environment form ecological systems, or ecosystems.”
The study of ecology most often takes place in natural, or near-natural, areas, such as a forest, meadow or mountain. Ecologists study these wilderness environments, searching for guidance on how to restore degraded ones. This reinforces the common concept of nature as being “out there”, far away from where most people live.
Urban ecology studies parks, greenbelts, and forest preserves – the large, public green spaces of a city. But garden ecology? Can something as small as most gardens have an ecology at all? And why should we care?
Well, if you have a garden, and spend much time caring for it, then you are a part of the ecology of that place. Every person who manages a plot of land, however small, is part of the ecology of that land, and all of them together, along with the other people and parts of a city, form the ecology of that city. What is done on those small plots, what grows and lives (or doesn’t) on each one, multiplied by hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of individual plots, has the potential to influence the ecosystem – and the health – of the entire city.
The deeply-entrenched American reverence for lawns means that, at present, the relatively barren landscape of manicured, often chemical-soaked turf is the dominant ecosystem in most cities. Ecologically speaking, such sites don’t contribute much to the local ecosystem.
But that is changing, as more people become aware that a diverse, densely-planted landscape can support a diverse cast of fauna and provide many ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration. This enriches the local ecosystem immeasurably. If this stewardship ethic can be multiplied by even a fraction of the yards in a city, we will begin to see that “garden ecology” is another name for OUR ecology. It is the interrelationship of we humans to the plants and animals, stones and streams, among which we make our homes. It is part of understanding that nature is not just far away, in pristine wilderness. Nature is right here, sipping nectar from your flowers, nesting in your trees, burrowing under your feet and buzzing past your nose.
Hello Blog Readers!
I am writing here to share my story! Possibly also to toot my horn a bit. I am extremely proud of what I have been up to lately!
In the Lab…
I joined this lab through the STEM Leaders program. They connected me to the Urban Ecology lab where I started work in January 2019. January 2020, I presented a research poster at the STEM Leaders Symposium on Professor Gail Langellotto’s and Aaron Anderson’s research projects, as well as my role in them. My role is, primarily, to provide support to the Lab’s research projects. My tasks included things like cleaning, data basing, and pinning bees. I also provided help in the field by weeding plants, observing pollinators, and collecting specimens. The research projects I contributed to are amazing and I am proud of the work I have done. I am very thankful for knowledge and skills I have gained along the way. As a result of these skills, I have been able to be successful in school and my other opportunities.
Starting at Oregon State University…
When I transferred to Oregon State University (OSU) from Southwestern Oregon Community College, I knew that I wanted to participate in research. I had no idea where to begin. After earning a spot in the program, STEM Leaders provided me with the tools I needed to be successful in a lab. They then connected me with Gail Langellotto, my first choice in labs. Since starting work, I have gained a new passion for urban ecology and pollinators. I have also learned many skills that will directly translate to, and benefit me, in my journey to a possible master’s degree and my future career.
In my time at OSU, I have been presented with many opportunities. Originally, I was concerned about finding a community here at OSU. I am from the small town of Baker City, Oregon. The biggest town I had lived in, before Corvallis, was Coos Bay, Oregon. Since my first term, I have been participating in TRIO (student support services), STEM Leader’s, and the Organic Grower’s Club. These programs have provided me with a wide range of support and connections.
Recently, I have been involved with the OSU Human Resource Service Center’s Advisory Board and the Presidential Student Legislative Advocacy program (PSLA). PSLA is a non-credit course aimed to reach students who want to be advocates for Oregon State University. They work to teach and engage students in policy issues related to our interests. Through this class, I was able to advocate for the program “Coast to Forest”, from OSU’s College of Public Health. This program aims to reduce mental health issues and opioid addiction in four rural counties across Oregon, including Baker County. I was able to advocate for this much-needed program by giving an invited personal testimony to the Oregon Senate Committee on Public Health. This was my first time participating in the public process. For that reason, I was encouraged to pursue an internship at the State Capitol.
Later, I earned an internship position at the State Capitol. I am now an intern in State Representative Caddy Mckeown’s office during my final winter term here at OSU. As a first generation, low income, and Agricultural Science student, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to learn about the legislative process first-hand by doing office work in a Representative’s office. I am extremely thankful for this opportunity as I have already learned a lot and have made many new connections. I am looking forward to learning more as we progress through the 2020 legislative short session. Similarly, I am extremely excited for my other upcoming events.
Next term, my final term at OSU, I will embark on my biggest journey yet! I earned a full time internship at the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica! This is a huge leap for me! I have never left the country, have hardly left the Pacific Northwest, and have never travelled alone. I could not be any more excited! Here, I will be working with the local farmers to develop farm designs and do soil analysis. I will work to advance the Monteverde Institute’s goal to advancing sustainability on a global level. Additionally, I have the opportunity to design a local pollinator garden at the local elementary school and educate the children on it! In this way, I will be bringing a bit of the Garden Ecology Lab to Costa Rica with me!
Finally, my graduation will be in June 2020, after I return from my 2.5-month internship in Costa Rica. I will have earned a major in Agricultural Science and a minor in Comparative International Agriculture. My time here at Oregon State has been short, yet very fruitful. It is sad to see my educational journey end. I will be eternally grateful to all the people I have met along the way. I would not have made it where I am without their guidance and help. They will not ever know how truly grateful I am and how impactful their presence has been in my life. Thank you, Gail Langellotto for your leadership, knowledge, and the opportunities you have given me!
I will be blogging from Costa Rica. If you would like to follow this, or learn a bit more about me you can find my personal website at the link below.
You know about butterflies, about bees, beetles, and ladybugs, all of our favorite garden critters – but do you know about the parasitic wasp? Alias: The Parasitoid. Not quite a parasite and not quite a predator, they are the zombie-creating hymenopterans that make your garden their home and hunting ground. Unlike a true parasite, the parasitoid will eventually kill its host, but unlike a true predator, there is a gap between parasitism and host death. The Parasitoid is truly one of a kind, but with thousands of species in over 40 families, there are many of that kind. They prey by laying their eggs in or on the bodies and eggs of other arthropods, growing, aging, and getting stronger as their unknowing host provides their executioner food and shelter until the parasitoid is ready to attack.
As menacing as their way of life may seem, parasitic wasps are actually one of the most effective biological pest control agents available to home gardeners, and can be an excellent indicator of habitat health for ecologists. As biocontrol agents, parasitoids can effectively manage a very wide variety of pests from aphids and sawflies to weevils and mites, along with many more. They occur naturally if their hosts/prey and habitable conditions are present and it costs little to nothing to maintain their populations. If pest outbreaks are not completely out of control and the site is habitable, parasitoids can safely, easily, cost-effectively, and naturally bring pest populations below economic injury thresholds. Know any pesticides that check all those boxes? In terms of habitat health, parasitoids can drive biodiversity and positively influence ecosystem functions. As such, their diversity and abundance can act as an indicator for the overall health and functionality of an ecosystem – such as your home garden.
Is it starting to seem like parasitic wasps could be an area of research for say. . .a garden
ecology lab? Certainly seems like that to me. That’s why this upcoming year I will be taking on an undergraduate research project to assess the parasitoid populations present in the Portland home gardens Gail and I have collected bees from for the last 3 years. Thanks to our sampling methods, we already have lots of parasitoid data to perform this analysis with, so there won’t be any more soapy bowls in your gardens this summer. This is the first of hopefully many blog posts that will accompany this research, so stay tuned as the year progresses to learn more about your new flying friends!
Further Reading and References:
Video showing some parasitoid activity:
Natives vs Nativars Recent studies report an increase in consumer demand for native plants, largely due to their benefits to bees and other pollinators. This interest has provided the nursery industry with an interesting labelling opportunity. If you walk into a large garden center, you find many plant pots labelled as “native” or “pollinator friendly”. Some of these plants include cultivated varieties of wild native plant species, called “nativars”. While many studies confirm the value of native plants to pollinators, we do not yet understand if nativars provide the same resources to their visitors.
Photo Source: Moxfyre – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
E. purpurea ‘Secret Passion’
Photo source: National Guarden Bureau
An Echinacea Example Above are three purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea) plants: on the top is the wild type, in the middle is a nativar ‘Maxima’, and on the bottom is another nativar ‘Secret Passion’. In some cases, like ‘Secret Passion’s double flower, there is an obvious difference between a nativar and a wild type that might make it less attractive to insect visitors. Since we can’t see the disc flowers (the tiny flowers in the center of daisy family plants), we might assume that ‘Secret Passion’ may be more difficult for pollinators to visit. The floral traits displayed by ‘Maxima’ seem similar to the wild type, but it might produce less pollen or nectar, causing bees to pass over it.
Unless we actually observe pollinator visitation and measure floral traits and nectar, we can’t assume that natives and nativars are equal in their value to pollinators.
Nativar Research One study looking at the difference between native species and their nativar counterparts has come out of the University of Vermont (my alma mater!). A citizen science effort started by the Chicago Botanic Garden is also currently ongoing. My Master’s thesis will be the first to use a sample of plants specific to the Pacific Northwest. We have selected 8 plants that are native to Oregon’s Willamette Valley and had 1-2 nativars available. These plants have shown a range of attractiveness to pollinators (low, medium, or high) based on Aaron’s research. We are including plants with low attractiveness because it’s possible that a nativar may have a characteristic that makes it more attractive, such as a larger flower or higher nectar content.
Experimental Design We have four garden beds in our study, and each bed contains at least one planting of each native species and their nativar counterpart(s). This kind of design is called a “Randomized Complete Block” (RCB). The RCB has two main components: “blocks”, which in our case are garden beds, and “treatments”, which are our different plant species. Above I have drawn a simplified RCB using two of our plants: Camas and California poppy. The bamboo stakes outline each plot and have attached metal tags that label the plants.
We planted our seeds and bulbs in November and will plant out 4″ starts of the other plants in early Spring. Look out for my spring and summer updates to see how these plots progress from mulch and bamboo stakes to four garden beds full of flowers and buzzing insects!