Now that our lab group is working on native plants and native bees, I thought it would be fun to do a ‘Plant of the Week’ and ‘Bee of the Week’ series.  This first entry is from Lucas Costner, an undergraduate environmental science major at Oregon State University.  It highlights one of the plants that Aaron Anderson is using in his research.

Sedum spathulifolium (Broadleaf stonecrop)

  • Wildlife benefits: larval host plant for elfin butterfly larvae; adult butterflies will nectar on blossoms
Broadleaf Stonecrop. Photo by Greg Dahlman. https://www.flickr.com/photos/enkindler/5892806011

The broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium spp. spathulifolium) is a perennial that is native to California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia (1).  It is hardy throughout USDA zones 4 to 10 (2) and is therefore well-suited to most Oregon gardens. The broadleaf stonecrop performs best in full-sun to part-shade (2), and does well in relatively dry, nutrient poor soils (3). Between the months of May through August, expect yellow star-shaped flowers clustered on stems averaging six inches in height (3). These flowers are purported to be attractive to insect pollinators, in particular butterflies (3). The blue-green leaves of the plant are succulent, develop in a rosette, and often appear waxy or powdery (4). Due its resilient nature and attractive appearance, the broadleaf stonecrop is a popular choice for Oregon gardeners looking to incorporate succulents and native plants into their landscapes. 

Sources:

1 “Plant Profile for Sedum spathulifolium spathulifolium (broadleaf stonecrop).” Natural Resources Conservation Services. USDA, n.d. Web. 25 May 2017.

2 “Sedum spathulifolium.” Las Pilitas Nursery . N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2017. <http://www.laspilitas.com/nature-of-california/plants/629–sedum-spathulifolium>.

3 “Sedum spathulifolium.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The University of Texas at Austin, n.d. Web. 25 May 2017. <http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=SESP>.

4 “Sedum spathulifolium var. spathulifolium.” Flora of North America . N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2017. <http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=250092154>

Gardens are unique and understudied systems that can have multi-faceted and positive impacts on environmental and public health.  But, key to realizing the potential, positive impact of gardens are the decisions that are made when planning, installing and maintaining garden beds and features.  These decisions are especially important, because gardeners manage and maintain a significant amount of land in the United States.  Take lawns, for example.  Studies suggest that lawns represented the single largest irrigated crop in the United States, and that there are more acres of lawn than the combined acreage of corn, alfalfa, soy, orchards and rice1.

Of course, lawns are just one component of a garden ~ perhaps the least interesting component, from an ecological point of view.  Gardens are special, because of their unique levels of plant abundance and diversity2, which in some cases can be considered ‘biodiversity hotspots’3.   In New York, my lab group documented the important role that plant abundance and diversity in urban and suburban gardens can play in conserving pollinator biodiversity4, 5, 6.  Recently, some of the top researchers in the country argued that conservation plans could better harness the positive environmental benefits of gardens and landscapes7.  But, before we can get there, we need to answer some basic questions.

This is where the Garden Ecology Lab comes in.  Our group works at the interface of ecology and sociology, to try and understand the benefits of gardens to the environment and to human health and well-being.  We want to document the biodiversity of plants, pollinators and other organisms in Oregon gardens, and analyze what factors constrain or promote garden biodiversity.  I’ve done this work in New York, but want to repeat these first steps in Oregon.  Ultimately, the goal is to understand how gardens ~ and the decisions we make in our gardens ~ either promotes or constrains ecosystem services, such as pollination, pest control, and more.

Our group is diverse, and includes students interested in ecology, horticultural therapy and urban soils.  Extension and outreach is embedded in all that we do, such that we plan to work closely with gardeners (as citizen scientists) to describe and understand garden biodiversity, and to communicate findings to broader audiences. We’ll be looking for garden study sites and cooperating gardeners in the coming months, and invite you to get to know us, just a bit more.

References

1Milesi, C., S. W. Running, C. D. Elvidge, J. B. Dietz, B. T. Tuttle, R. R. Nemani. 2005. Mapping and Modeling the Biogeochemical Cycling of Turf Grasses in the United States. Environmental Management 36:426–438.

2Thompson, K. K. C. Austin, R. M. Smith, P. H. Warren, P. G. Angold, K. J. Gaston. 2003. Urban domestic gardens (I): putting small-scale plant diversity in context. Journal of Vegetation Science 14:71-78.

3Gea Galluzzi, G., P. Eyzaguirre, V. Negri. 2010. Home gardens: neglected hotspots of agro-biodiversity and cultural diversity. Biodiversity and Conservation 19: 3635–3654.

4Fetridge, E., J. S. Ascher, G. A. Langellotto.  2008. The bee fauna of residential gardens in a suburb of New York City (Hymenoptera: Apoidea).  Annals of the Entomological Society of America 101:1067-1077.

5Matteson, K. C., G. A. Langellotto. 2010. Determinates of inner city butterfly and bee species richness. Urban Ecosystems 13:333-347.

6Matteson, K. C., J. S. Ascher and G. A. Langellotto. 2008. Richness and composition of the bee fauna of urban gardens in New York City (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 101:140-150.

7Hall, D. M., G. R. Camilo, R. K. Tonietto, J. Ollerton, K. Ahrne, M. Arduser, J. S. Ascher, K. C. R. Baldock, R. E. Fowler, G. W. Frankie, D. Goulson, B. Gunnarsson, M. E. Hanley, J. I. Jackson, G. Langellotto, D. Lowenstein, E. S. Minor, S. M. Philpott, S. G. Potts, M. H. Sirohi, E. M. Spevak, G. Stone, C. G. Threlfall.  2016. The city as a refuge for insect pollinators: conservation for the city. Conservation Biology. Online First.

We study gardens: the plants, insects, animals, people, decisions and management practices that either improve or degrade a garden’s ability to promote environmental and human health.

An underlying premise of our work is that gardens are important and understudied systems, that are key to building more sustainable, healthy and just communities.  

Garden Ecology Lab, Spring 2019. (L-R): Isabella Messer, Angelee Calder, Gail Langellotto, Aaron Anderson, Signe Danler, Mykl Nelson.

Our garden pollinator work is supported by a generous donation from Spike Wadsworth and Y. Sherry Sheng.