Scrub a Dub Dub: 5 Cleaning Tips for a Healthy Garden!

What… is it already time to think about spring cleaning?! It might still be winter, but spring will be here faster than we know it. Some quick cleaning is a great way to take care of a garden that we enjoy during the year!

If you’re wondering where to start, this blog post could be a way to jumpstart your cleaning. Here’s 5 tips on things to clean in the garden.

  • Bird feeders.

It’s a great feeling to see all types of birds using and enjoying your bird feeder. While they’re great, bird feeders can actually pose a major threat to bird health: excrement that is on the feeder perch can pass from bird to bird, spreading Salmonella and other diseases. Even if you don’t see dead birds around your bird feeder, birds that use your feeder could still be passing disease elsewhere, after they use it. Luckily, it’s a simple fix! How to clean a bird feeder: It’s best to clean your bird feeder regularly, say in between fills. Ideally, take it inside and wash it with soap and water. Then, soak it in a bleach solution (9:1 water to bleach) for 10 minutes. Rinse again to rid the feeder of any bleach solution. Make sure to wash your hands after touching the feeder! For more information, check out this link.

  • Bird baths.

Bird baths: Algae isn’t fun to look at, but did you know it’s also dangerous for birds? Luckily, there’s simple fixes to keep bird baths clean and fresh for visitors! The easiest way to help keep your bird bath clean is to wash it out regularly (sometimes even every day, especially in the summer). 

There are two other mixing solution options for doing a deep clean of your bird bath: vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Each mixture is nine parts water and one part vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Use a scrub brush to fully clean the bath and then ensure no cleaning mixture remains. Refill with water, and you’re good to go!

For more information, check out this link.

Photo by Nicole Bell.
  • Gardening tools.

Tools help us take great care of the garden… let’s show the same level of care to our gardening tools! Cleaning gardening tools helps to extend their lifespan and can also help prevent the spread of disease. 

How to clean gardening tools: Different options exist to clean gardening tools. For those tools that have metal, you can fill a 5 gallon bucket with sand and about a quart of car motor oil. After you’re done using the tools for the day, dip them in the sand and oil mixture. This mix helps to both clean the blade and coat it in a thin layer of oil. If you want to do a deep clean, you can wipe off any tools with a damp rag and some alcohol. If there’s sap or other buildup on your tools, try using sandpaper to get rid of it. Sandpaper is also a great way to refresh the wooden handle on tools (if you want to add a layer of oil after sanding wood, try mineral oil as a finish)!

For more information, check out this link.

  • Debris from diseased plants. Did you find black spot on any roses last year? How about other diseases on plants in the garden? Remove those diseased leaves or other debris from infected plants to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Stepping stones/moss slipping hazard. Moss is great! But if you have too much of it on your walkways, it can be a slipping hazard. Use your best judgment – if you’re worried about it being a potential hazard, it’s rather easy to select where you want to remove it on pathways/pavers. Mix a solution of bleach with water (up to 15% bleach) and use a scrub brush to agitate and remove the areas of concern.

Happy cleaning!

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: Week 8

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Globe Gilia!

The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 8! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Photo by iNaturalist user © slewiiis,
 some rights reserved

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Gilia capitata
  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Growth Habit: Erect, clusters
  • Bloom Duration: May – June
  • Hardiness Zone: 7-10
  • Light requirements: full sun
  • Special Traits: Drought tolerant, tolerant to various soil types.
  • When to plant: Seeds can be sewn directly in the fall, or can be stratified indoors over the winter before planting out in the spring.

Pollinator Facts

  • Globe Gilia provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors.
  • Gilia was found to be associated with the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii in Aaron’s research.
  • Globe Gilia is also a larval host for at least one moth species, Adela singulella, but possibly four others as well.
  • In addition to insect visitors, Gilia is can be an occasional nectar source for hummingbirds1, which love its tubular flowers!

Photo by iNaturalist user © mudcitymelissa,
 some rights reserved

Globe Gilia‘s Native Range in Oregon

There are three subspecies of Gilia capitata in Oregon: Bluefield Gilia (ssp. capitata), Dune Gilia (ssp. chamissonis), and Pacific Gilia (ssp. pacifica). Dune Gilia and Pacific Gilia are considered to be rare plants in California (rare, threated, or endangered, rank 1B).

Distribution maps acquired from Oregon Flora with imagery from Google. Copyright 2022.

Globe Gilia as a pollinator plant

Globe Gilia may have only been associated with a single bee species in Aaron’s native plant research, but it is truly a powerhouse of an annual plant: it supports a highly diverse and abundant community of native bees! Gilia’s globe of flower heads provide pollinators with plenty of foraging spots to choose from, and the dense mass also allows easy access for both small and large pollinators, by acting as a nice landing pad. From their comfortable perch, butterflies and larger-bodied bees can dip their proboscis (tongue) into the nectar-rich blossoms. Smaller bees may need to crawl in to the individual flowers to access the nectaries.

Gilia is a great annual plant option to include in pollinator mixes and in meadows. It’s an easy to care for plant, requiring minimal water during the growing season. It grows up to three feet in height with lovely lavender – dark purple – blue flower heads, lacy foliage, and surprising blue pollen! The flowers contrast wonderfully with many other mid-summer blooms, such as poppies, Oregon sunshine, asters, and Clarkia.


Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.

Abundance Calculations. Bee abundance was calculated using estimated marginal means of bee visitation to each of our study plants from 5-minute observations conducted from Aaron’s 2017-2019 field seasons. Estimated marginal means (EM Means) were assigned to categorical values and averaged across years to yield the following categories: 0% = Very Low =EM mean below 0.49; 25% = Low = EM mean of 0.50 to 0.99; 50% = Moderate = EM mean of 1 to 1.49; 75% = High = EM mean of 1.50 to 1.99; and 100% = Very high = EM mean above 2.0.

Diversity Calculations. Bee diversity was based on the total sum of species collected on each of our study plants from 2017 to 2019. A Chao 2 Estimator was used to estimate total expected species richness for each plant; Chao 2 estimates were then used to create categorical values, as follows: 0% = Very Low = 9.99 or lower; 25% = Low = 10 to 14.99; 50% = Moderate = 15 to 19.99; 75% = High = 20 to 24.99; 100% = Very high = 25 or higher.


Did you know?

When you think about pollen, one color tends to come to mind: yellow. Perhaps you conjure up an image of a bumblebee in a field of clover, weighed down by some giant orange-toned pollen baskets as well. Many of us might stop there, and conclude that pollen must be either yellow or orange, as those are the predominant pollen colors we see in the plant world. The absolutely exciting news is that, like flower colors, pollen also comes in a rainbow of colors. Globe Gilia, for example, has pollen that comes in shades of blue!

A spotlight on pollen colors

As some of you may remember from my (Jen’s) 2021 field update, last summer, a few of us from the Garden Ecology lab had the wonderful opportunity to visit Jasna Guy and Lincoln Best’s exhibit ‘In Time’s Humm’ at the High Desert Museum in Bend. Part of this display was a pollen color study, showing Jasna’s recreations of pollen colors using pastels. We saw pollen in shades of yellows, oranges, red, pink, purple, white, and even green. Color can truly be found anywhere if you look closely enough! Perhaps it should be no surprise then, that even nectar may come in various colors, too… If you’re excited about pollen colors like we are, you might see if your local library has a copy of this book, and you might enjoy looking at pollen colors through the seasons, put together by the North Shropshire Beekeepers’ Association.

Now back to Globe Gilia: Photos from the field

Tune in next week for the next edition of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign.

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: Week 6

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Common Madia (AKA Tarweed)!

The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 6! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Photo © Rob Irwin
 some rights reserved

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Madia elegans
  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Growth Habit: Erect, slender
  • Bloom Duration: July – September
  • Hardiness Zone: 1-11
  • Light requirements: Prefers full sun, will tolerate partial shade.
  • Special Traits: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, seeds valued by birds, adaptable to many soil types and textures.
  • When to plant: Seeds can be sown directly in the fall, or sown in containers or cold frames in the winter. Stratify seeds if growing indoors.

Pollinator Facts

  • Common madia provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors and blooms during a period where foraging resources are often scarce (late summer – early fall).
  • Madia was found to be associated with two bee species in Aaron’s research: the Bi-colored Sweat Bee (Agapostemon virescens) and Titus’s Sweat Bee (Lasioglossum titusi)
  • Madia is also the larval host for three moth species: the Spotted Straw Sun Moth (Heliothis phloxiphada), the Small Heliothodes Moth (Heliothodes diminutivus), and an Epiblema moth (Epiblema deverrae)1.

Photo © Chris Cameron
 some rights reserved

Common Madia‘s Native Range in Oregon

Madia elegans is native to most of Western Oregon. Although it's native range does not extend east of the Cascades, it is a hardy annual that may do well in Central- and Eastern- Oregon gardens.

Map acquired from Oregon Flora with imagery sourced from Google.

Common Madia as a pollinator plant

Common Madia is an ideal plant for pollinator gardens due to its long bloom duration and attractiveness to bees, caterpillars, and butterflies. Madia was found to attract both a high abundance and a high diversity of bee visitors, which further speaks to its use as a great pollinator plant! Due to it’s late-summer bloom period, Madia can act as a great source of forage for it’s various visitors when there may not be many other plants flowering in the landscape. Madia flowers, which close at dusk and reopen in the morning, may also come with a fun surprise if you catch them before the sun has finished its ascent: if you’re lucky, you may be able to find male long-horned-bees sleeping in groups within the flowers2.


Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.

Abundance Calculations. Bee abundance was calculated using estimated marginal means of bee visitation to each of our study plants from 5-minute observations conducted from Aaron’s 2017-2019 field seasons. Estimated marginal means (EM Means) were assigned to categorical values and averaged across years to yield the following categories: 0% = Very Low =EM mean below 0.49; 25% = Low = EM mean of 0.50 to 0.99; 50% = Moderate = EM mean of 1 to 1.49; 75% = High = EM mean of 1.50 to 1.99; and 100% = Very high = EM mean above 2.0.

Diversity Calculations. Bee diversity was based on the total sum of species collected on each of our study plants from 2017 to 2019. A Chao 2 Estimator was used to estimate total expected species richness for each plant; Chao 2 estimates were then used to create categorical values, as follows: 0% = Very Low = 9.99 or lower; 25% = Low = 10 to 14.99; 50% = Moderate = 15 to 19.99; 75% = High = 20 to 24.99; 100% = Very high = 25 or higher.


A syrphid fly visiting a Madia flower. Photo by Signe Danler.

Did you know?

The other common name for Madia, “Tarweed”, comes from its foliage. It’s covered in stiff trichomes (hairs) and stalked glands which emit a tar-like scent. Common Madia is not the only species with this nickname, it applies to plants in the entire genus! For example, Madia glomerata, “Mountain Tarplant”, is a species of Madia native to the Northeast United States.

Common Madia‘s fruits are flattened achenes, which are valued by small mammals and birds as a food source. The achenes were also used by Indigenous groups, including the Pomo, Miwok, and Hupa and as a staple food source3. The fruits were often roasted with hot coals and then ground into flour.

Photos from the field

Tune in next week for the next edition of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign.

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: Week 5

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Canada Goldenrod!

The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 5! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Photo by iNaturalist user jessdraws.
no rights reserved (CCO).

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Solidago canadensis*
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Growth Habit: Erect, arching
  • Bloom Duration: July-October
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-9
  • Special Traits: Moderately drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant
  • Light requirements: Prefers full sun, but tolerates some shade.
  • When to plant: Plant starts in the Spring, or sow seeds directly in the Fall.

Pollinator Facts

  • Canada goldenrod provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors.
  • In Aaron’s research, Canada goldenrod was found to be associated with a species of long horned bee, Melisoddes microstictus and bees from the genus Bombus (bumblebees).
  • Other common visitors to Canada goldenrod are Northern Checkerspot butterflies, Field Crescent butterflies, Wavy-Lined moths, and Common Grey moths.
Bumble bee visiting Canada Goldenrod. Photo by Signe Danler

*A Note on Taxonomy

Canada goldenrod is often treated as a complex, or group of species, under the scientific name Solidago canadensis. In western North America, the complex includes S. elongata, S. lepida, and S. altissima. Tall goldenrod, S. altissima, is not native to Oregon, so when we refer to Solidago canadensis in Oregon, this only includes S. lepida “Cascade Canada Goldenrod” and S. elongata “Western Goldenrod”.

Goldenrods (the genus Solidago) are known to be a very difficult plant to identify to species, because they have a great amount of variation in their morphology within even a single species. To avoid any concerns about what species you’re getting when sourcing goldenrod or other native plants, we highly recommend purchasing plants from a local native plant nursery or grower that sources their seeds within your region!

Canada Goldenrod’s Native Range in Oregon

Oregon is home to Solidago lepida "Cascade Canada Goldenrod" and Solidago elongata, "Western Canada Goldenrod". Both of these species are found throughout Oregon, though they were previously thought to be geographically distinct.

Maps and legend acquired from the Oregon Flora Project, with Imagery Sourced from Google.

Canada Goldenrod as a pollinator plant

Canada goldenrod grows in prairies, meadows and riparian areas across Canada and the United States. Great for erosion control, hedgerows and pollinator gardens, Canada goldenrod will fill space with hardy foliage year round and present a showy display of golden flowers in the late summer. The pyramidal inflorescences are lined with tiny composite flowers that brim with nectar and pollen. Goldenrod supports many late season butterflies, moths, bees, beetles and some wasps.

Goldenrod is a wonderful late-flowering plant for pollinators; it hosts a moderate abundance and a high diversity of insect visitors. During its peak bloom, you can often find numerous different insects foraging on goldenrod. We love combining goldenrod with Douglas aster for a beautiful late-season floral display of yellow and purple, though it also compliments shorter annual species as well.

Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.

Abundance and Diversity Calculations. Bee abundance was calculated using estimated marginal means of bee visitation to each of our study plants from 5-minute observations conducted from Aaron’s 2017-2019 field seasons. Estimated marginal means (EM Means) were assigned to categorical values and averaged across years to yield the following categories: 0% = Very Low =EM mean below 0.49; 25% = Low = EM mean of 0.50 to 0.99; 50% = Moderate = EM mean of 1 to 1.49; 75% = High = EM mean of 1.50 to 1.99; and 100% = Very high = EM mean above 2.0.

Bee diversity was based on the total sum of species collected on each of our study plants from 2017 to 2019. A Chao 2 Estimator was used to estimate total expected species richness for each plant; Chao 2 estimates were then used to create categorical values, as follows: 0% = Very Low = 9.99 or lower; 25% = Low = 10 to 14.99; 50% = Moderate = 15 to 19.99; 75% = High = 20 to 24.99; 100% = Very high = 25 or higher.

Did you know?

Although this goldenrod is often blamed for people’s late summer allergies, the culprit is in fact ragweed! Ragweed and goldenrod have different pollination styles: ragweed produces masses of airborne pollen in an attempt to reach other ragweed plants by wind. Since goldenrod has evolved with pollinators to carry its pollen in a targeted fashion, goldenrod produces less pollen, very little of which is airborne.

Canada goldenrod has additionally been used as a plant medicine in many cultures; it was used as a substitute for English tea during the American Revolution for its pain-relieving and diuretic effects. Goldenrod flowers are edible and make a colorful garnish that make a beautiful addition to garden salads.

Photos from the field

Tune in next week for the next edition of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign.

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: Week 4

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Varileaf Phacelia!

The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 4! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Photo by iNaturalist user Leslie Flint.
CC Some rights reserved.

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Phacelia heterophylla
  • Life Cycle: Biennial/ annual, typically grown as an annual in Oregon
  • Growth Habit: Upright, mounding
  • Bloom Duration: April – July
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-7
  • Special Traits: Shade tolerant, drought tolerant
  • Light requirements: Full sun to part shade
  • When to plant: Seeds should be sown in the fall, starts may be planted in the fall or spring after the last chance of frost.

Pollinator Facts

  • Varileaf Phacelia provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors.
  • Phacelia was found to be associated with five bee species in Aaron’s research: the obscure bumblebee (Bombus caliginosus), Edward’s long-horned bee (Eucera edwardsii), the fuzzy-horned bumblebee (Bombus mixtus), the confluent miner bee (Panurginus atriceps), and the yellow-faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii).
  • Phacelia is also a larval host for 4 moths: the Bilobed Looper Moth (Megalographa biloba), the Geranium Plume Moth (Amblyptilia pica), the Orange Tortrix Moth (Argyrotaenia franciscana) and Clepsis fucana1.

Photo by Aaron Anderson

Varileaf Phacelia‘s Native Range in Oregon

Phacelia heterophylla is native to most of the Western United States – From Washington to California, east to Montana and south to New Mexico. It is additionally native to Canada, where it is currently considered “imperiled” by the IUCN red list2.

Varileaf Phacelia's native range covers nearly the entire state of Oregon! It's native habitat includes moist conifer forests, riparian areas, sagebrush, mountain brush, as well as in aspen and fir communities3.
Maps and legend acquired from the Oregon Flora Project, with Imagery Sourced from Google.

Varileaf Phacelia as a pollinator plant

A female long-horned bee (Eucera sp.) searches for some leftover forage on a spent Phacelia heterophylla inflorescence. Photo by Aaron Anderson.

Varileaf Phacelia is the epitome of an underappreciated pollinator plant! This annual with petite white flowers attracts both an abundance and diversity of insect visitors. With stamen that stick out of the corolla, it heavily advertises its nutritious rewards, attracting plenty of busy bees. In fact, it commonly hosted 5 different bee species in Aaron’s field surveys, including three charismatic bumblebee species, one of which is currently listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List: Bombus caliginosus, the obscure bumblebee4.


Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.

Abundance and Diversity Calculations. Bee abundance was calculated using estimated marginal means of bee visitation to each of our study plants from 5-minute observations conducted from Aaron’s 2017-2019 field seasons. Estimated marginal means (EM Means) were assigned to categorical values and averaged across years to yield the following categories: 0% = Very Low =EM mean below 0.49; 25% = Low = EM mean of 0.50 to 0.99; 50% = Moderate = EM mean of 1 to 1.49; 75% = High = EM mean of 1.50 to 1.99; and 100% = Very high = EM mean above 2.0.

Bee diversity was based on the total sum of species collected on each of our study plants from 2017 to 2019. A Chao 2 Estimator was used to estimate total expected species richness for each plant; Chao 2 estimates were then used to create categorical values, as follows: 0% = Very Low = 9.99 or lower; 25% = Low = 10 to 14.99; 50% = Moderate = 15 to 19.99; 75% = High = 20 to 24.99; 100% = Very high = 25 or higher.


In a survey of gardeners conducted by Aaron and the Garden Ecology Lab, Phacelia heterophylla ranked last among 23 native plants scored for their aesthetic appeal. It may appear “weedy” to some gardeners, but as an annual, it could easily be interspersed with more attractive annual face flowers (such as California poppy, meadowfoam, farewell to spring, or baby blue eyes) to create a colorful and nutritious pollinator garden. Varileaf Phacelia is also a great native annual to include in dryland pollinator gardens, considering it is drought tolerant and able to grow in both nutrient poor and rocky soils.

Did you know?

Photo by iNaturalist user jwlipe. CC Some rights reserved.

Varileaf Phacelia also has the common name "Variegate Scorpionweed", and the pictures above can show you exactly why! It's flowers are borne on elongated stems which are tightly curled, similar to a fiddlehead from a fern! The flowers bloom from the base to the apex of the stem, and the "scorpion tail" slowly unravels as the blooms travel up the stem.

Photos from the field

Of all of the plants we highlight in this 10-week series, Varileaf Phacelia is the one plant that Gail regularly says is in great need of it's own public relations (PR) team. The goal of these plant profiles is to share information and photos of these plants that might convince readers to love this plant as much as we (and the bees) do! 

Let us know which plants have caught your eye, or those that may still take some convincing, by leaving a comment below! 🐝

Tune in next week for the next edition of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign.

2021 Butterfly Bush Update

Field season wrap up is underway in the butterfly bush plot, and there is so much to reflect on this year!  The team has had a very productive summer, and as these bushes are better established and have reached their full spread and height, they have become more attractive to pollinators.  As a reminder, the butterfly bush (Buddleja spp.) test plot consists of 34 butterfly bush cultivars of ranging fertility, habit, and breeding complexity.  We have 6 -9 replicates of each individual cultivar, totaling 222 plants in the complete replicated block. The plot represents all the past and present (yes, we have some experimental cultivars) breeding that has been conducted to reduce fertility and hopefully invasiveness of Buddleja davidii.  Much of that breeding centers around interspecific hybridization (breeding between 2 or more species in the same genus), so our plot represents hybridization of 7 different Buddleja species!

This summer we conducted pollinator observations the same as last year.  This consisted of 5-minute timed counts at each location in full flower (we are calling full flower 50% or more of the buds or flowers on the individual plant are fully open) each week.  During the timed count, we identify all visitors to morphology- which is simply differentiating between honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and other morphotypes.  This presented new challenges this year because of the sheer mass some of our plants have reached!  Though they were spaced 8 feet apart on all sides at planting, some have grown in together, making access an occasional issue.  Many of the full-sized cultivars also reach well over my head, presenting more challenges in accurate counting.  The team pushed through these difficulties, and by the end of the season we had counted 7,597 individual visitations on the plot.  This is over 2,000 more than last year!  You can view overall visitations by cultivar for both the 2020 and 2021 seasons below.

Though all the cultivars were most frequently visited by honeybee cultivars in 2020, three cultivars in 2021 were most frequently visited by bumblebees.  Most notably the cultivar ‘Honeycomb’ attracted far and away more bumblebees than any other cultivar, and most of the visitors were male.  Not only does ‘Honeycomb’ seem to be very attractive while sampling, it has an extremely long bloom season in comparison to the other cultivars in the study.  It will bloom steadily from mid-June until the first deep frost of the season.  Generally, there is an uptick in visitation across all the cultivars in 2021 as compared to 2020.  Keep in mind the plants were substantially larger this season compared to last, meaning larger floral displays which are more attractive to pollinators.

‘Honeycomb’ in full bloom…on October 29th, 2021

In addition to pollinator observations, we collected nectar volume data for all 34 cultivars and attempted to collect pollen from a low and high fertility cultivar respectively.   Tyler and Mallory were instrumental in getting nectar volume estimates collected, you can see them pictured below probing individual flowers with microcapillary tubes.  Pollen collection turned out to be a very time-consuming process because there wasn’t a good alternative to good old hand collection.  After about 80 hours of labor on the project, we were still a ways off of our mark, so we needed to reassess our methodology.  More to report on that next year I’m sure.

Svea Bruslind and Jen Hayes also helped me take filtered photos of all my cultivars this season.  You can read more about Svea’s excellent photography skills in her post ‘A Bee’s Eye View: UV photography and bee vision‘ but I’m sure the photographs she took of my cultivars in ‘Bee Vision’ will prove useful in understanding patterns of attraction out on the plot.  Scroll through the pictures below to see examples of Svea’s work, in order of pollinator attraction in the 2021 field season.

This time of year, focus returns to the relative fertility portion of my study.  This means time in the greenhouse monitoring controlled crosses I made over the summer, sowing seeds from the field and counting respective seedlings.  This robust dataset will allow us to calculate relative fecundity of all our cultivars in both male and female roles, important information in assessing invasive species legislation. 

2021 Field Update: Natives & Nativars

Our second field season studying pollinator visitation to Oregon native plants and native cultivars spanned from April to late September of 2021, although if Douglas Aster had any say in the matter, we would likely still be sampling. The densely blooming Symphyotrichum subspicatum continued to produce a smattering of new flowers through November of last year, and we predict it will do the same this year, too!

Our field crew this summer included Tyler, Svea, Mallory and I. Together, we sampled on 33 different dates across the growing season, allowing us to collect around 2000 physical pollinator specimens, and observe 6,225 unique interactions between pollinators and our study plants! This season we conducted floral trait measurements (including the dimensions of flowers), took multispectral photos, and additionally collected pollen from a subset of our study plants.

From left to right: Mallory vacuum-sampling off of Douglas Aster 'Sauvie Snow', Tyler shaking a farewell-to-spring flower to get pollen off of it, and Svea photographing Baby Blue Eyes 'Penny Black'.

This year, we introduced a third cultivar for California poppy (Eschscholzia californica ‘Purple Gleam’), yarrow (Achillea millefolium ‘Moonshine’), and farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena ‘Scarlet’). The new cultivars were established in the spring, which resulted in a late bloom for the annuals, so we expect to see them blooming during their typical period in 2022. The Achillea ‘Moonshine’ replaced Achillea ‘Salmon Beauty’ in being the most abundant yarrow cultivar; it began blooming almost immediately as it was planted into our field site and is still continuing to push out blooms through October alongside the Douglas Asters. 

The plant groups in our study: the larger circles with orange text are the native plants, and the smaller circles and turquoise text are the cultivars. The top row contain the perennials yarrow, western red columbine, great camas, and Douglas aster. The bottom row shows the three annuals farewell-to-spring, California poppy, and baby blue eyes.

In addition to watching new plants bloom in the study garden, we had the opportunity to observe many incredible pollinators in the field this summer. We saw a hummingbird visit the Western Red Columbine, we tried to capture videos of leaf-cutter bees snipping little petal pieces off of farewell-to-spring, and at a neighboring plot we observed a male wool-carder bee section off an entire patch of Salvia for a female bee.

On the left: Farewell-to-spring 'Scarlet' with crescents cut out of the petals by leafcutter bees. Top right: A female wool-carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) collecting trichomes from Yarrow 'Calistoga'. Middle right: A leafcutter bee with a piece of petal from Farewell-to-spring 'Dwarf White'. Bottom right: A leaf cutter bee removing a piece of petal from Farewell-to-spring 'Aurora'.

We were also able to take a couple educational field trips this field season in order to learn about pollinator studies ongoing outside of Oak Creek. In June, we went up to the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, OR to listen to three talks about pollinators at the Blueberry Field Day. We learned how to score the productivity of honeybee hives, how to properly don a the top of a bee suit, about blueberry’s best pollinators, and blueberry research projects at the University of Washington.

In August, we made a trip to Bend for a different kind of study… an artistic one! We travelled to the High Desert Museum in order to visit Jasna Guy and Lincoln Best’s exhibit “In Time’s Hum…”. Jasna is a brilliant artist inspired by pollinators, which translates into the subject of her pieces as well as her artistic media. Many of her pieces are made using encaustic (a method of painting using wax, bee’s wax in her case!), dipped directly into bee’s wax, or involve pollinators in some other format, including her color study of pollen, which attempts to replicate the colors of fresh pollen as well as the colors after bees have mixed them with nectar. In the center of exhibit were two cases filled with bees collected and identified by Linc, surrounding some of the dried plant specimens they forage on.

These field trips were a wonderful way to see what other pollinator work is happening in our broader community and to inspire future studies. It was especially exciting to see how Jasna and Linc combined art and science with their exhibit, which is something many of us in the Garden Ecology Lab are interested in.

1. Mallory, Svea, and Jen at the blueberry Field Day. 2. Svea, Jen, Mallory, and Tyler at the High Desert Museum. 3. A panorama of the "... In Time's Hum ... " exhibit. 4-5. Art on the outside of the exhibit. 6. A snapshot of two pollen samples from Jasna Guy's pollen color study.

While we cannot make conclusions until we complete our final field season, we are excited to report some of the variation in visitation between native plants and native cultivars that we have observed in our first two field seasons. In the first field season, our observations of native bees foraging on the study plants revealed three plant groups to have variable amounts of visitation. Yarrow, farewell-to-spring, and California poppy all had at least one cultivar that received substantially less native bee visits than the native type. In our second year, all three of farewell-to-spring’s cultivars received less visitation than the native Clarkia amoena. Poppy had only one cultivar with less native bee activity than the native (Purple Gleam), and in the case of Douglas Aster, both of the cultivars actually had more visitation by native bees than the native. 

Figure 1: Average Abundance of Foraging Native Bees during 5-Min Observations in 2021. Individual plants are color-coded by genus. The naming scheme combines the first three letters of the genus and specific epithet; cultivars are denoted by an underscore and a 1-2 letter code to identify them. For example, AQUFOR is the native Aquilegia formosa, and AQUFOR_XT is Aquilegia  x ‘XeraTones’.

Tyler’s Research on Containerized Vegetable Gardens

Today, Tyler successfully defended his undergraduate research thesis, entitled ‘Invest in Vegetables: A Cost and Benefit Analysis of Container Grown Roma Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum cv. ‘Roma’) and Italian Basil (Ocimum basilicum cv. ‘Italian’)‘.

A student in jeans and a long sleeved shirt, wearing a mask, stands in the middle of his containerized tomato garden research plot.
Tyler Spofford, in the middle of his containerized garden research plot, in the summer of 2020.

His research was inspired by the rush to vegetable gardening, that many households made during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown that there are many benefits to vegetable gardening, including social, emotional, physical, and financial. However, those in rental housing, or otherwise without easy access to land, were largely locked out of accessing these benefits.

Although previous research has shown that in-ground and raised bed vegetable gardening can yield positive economic benefits, to date, no studies (that we know of) have quantified the financial costs and benefits of growing vegetables in containers. Tyler thus set up a system of 5-gallon and 3-gallon bucket gardens, planted with Roma tomatoes, or Roma tomatoes plus Italian basil. He kept careful track of the cost of materials, and the time he spent gardening. He also kept careful track of the harvest he pulled off of each container.

Over the course of his study, he successfully learned about and fought back Septoria leaf spot, and blossom end rot. We learned that Roma tomatoes, in particular, are susceptible to blossom end rot. On top of these horticultural plant problems, Tyler’s research was abruptly halted by the late summer wildfires of 2020, that made air quality unsafe for him and others to continue their work, outdoors.

Despite these challenges, he was able to glean enough data from his project, to share some interesting findings:

  • None of the containers netted a positive economic benefit, in the first year of gardening, largely because the cost of materials outweighed the financial benefits of the harvest.
  • If the project were continued into year two, he projects that he would have had a positive financial outcome for the tomatoes grown with basil, in the 5-gallon containers.
  • Across the course of the season, he only spent 30 minutes tending to each container. Because he had few garden maintenance tasks, the time invested in container gardens was minimal. This is an important finding, for folks who may shy away from gardening because of lack of time.
  • As expected, the 5-gallon containers yielded more than the 3-gallon tomatoes. The 3-gallon containers stunted plant growth too much, to recommend them as a viable container gardening system. [As a side note, we were given the 3-gallon containers, for free, which is why we included them in the study.]
  • The fair market value of Roma tomatoes was fairly low (~$1.00 per pound). Thus, the net economic benefit of growing Roma tomatoes was also low. Basil, on the other hand, was a high value specialty crop that helped to raise the overall economic value of crops harvested from the buckets.

If you are interested in seeing Tyler’s thesis defense presentation (~30 minutes), you can do so, at the link below.

https://media.oregonstate.edu/id/1_8v2t4zd4?width=400&height=285&playerId=22119142

Tyler will be graduating in a few days, with a degree in BioResource Research from OSU! He’s worked in our lab group for two years, and has been an absolute joy to learn and work with. We wish him the very best on the next adventures that await him.

Five Scientific Studies that Changed the Way I Think About Gardens: Part 4: Native Plants’ Benefits to Biodiversity Cascade Across Trophic Levels

This article is the third in a five part series that I am writing for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon (HPSO) Quarterly Magazine. I am grateful to the team at HPSO for their editorial skills and feedback. Part 1 (overview, and gardens as ‘islands’ in an urban ‘ocean’), and Part 2 (putting a price on nature), and Part 3 (Wild Bees > Honey Bees) of this series can be found in earlier blog posts.

In this post, I cover the 2009 paper, “Impact of native plants on bird and butterfly biodiversity in suburban landscapes,” by Karin Burghardt, et al.[i]

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This study was published shortly after the first edition of Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.[ii] After decades of studying host plant records of butterfly and moth species, Tallamy was convinced that native plants were critically important to wildlife conservation. About half of all insects are herbivores, and about 70 percent of all herbivores are specialists that are only capable of feeding on a narrow range of plants (see Schoonhoven et al. 2005, Chapter 2, pages 5-9). Specialist insects have developed, over time, the ability to feed on plants that have physical or chemical deterrents that keep generalist insects at bay. Although specialist insects can feed on plants that can be toxic to other insects, they can’t easily switch to feed on novel, non-native plants.

Burghardt and Tallamy’s Study of Native Plants and Caterpillars

Tallamy was Karin Burghardt’s master’s degree advisor and one of her co-authors on the 2009 paper. In their study, they selected six pairs of suburban gardens in central Pennsylvania. Gardens were paired by size and proximity. One garden in each pair featured the conventional landscaping for this region: large lawns, Asian shrubs, Asian understory trees, and native canopy trees. The other garden was landscaped with native ornamentals at each vegetative layer: grasses, shrubs, understory trees, and canopy trees.

They counted the number of caterpillars at 12 points within each garden. Since caterpillars are herbivores, and most insect herbivores are specialists that do best on native plants, they hypothesized that they would find more caterpillars in the native plant gardens. Indeed, this is what they found. Caterpillar abundance was four times greater, and caterpillar species diversity was three times greater, in the native gardens versus the conventional gardens. In addition, Burghardt found that native plant gardens harbored more birds. In fact, native plant gardens had 55 percent more birds and 73 percent more bird species, compared to conventional gardens!

This study demonstrated that gardeners’ choices matter and can clearly influence ecological food chains. Food chains are organized into what are known as trophic levels. Organisms on the same trophic level share the same ecological function and nutritional distance from the sun. Photosynthetic plants are on the first trophic level. Herbivores, or organisms that eat plants, are on the second trophic level. Organisms that eat herbivores, such as birds, are on the third trophic level.

Burghardt and Tallamy demonstrated that what you decide to plant in your garden not only determines the structure of the first trophic level but can also cascade up to affect the second and third trophic levels. As an entomologist, I was not surprised that gardeners’ plant selections could influence the second trophic level. However, I was blown away that these decisions could cascade up to strongly influence the third trophic level.

Garden Ecology Lab Studies of Native Plants and Bees

In the Oregon State University Garden Ecology Lab, we study relationships between native garden plants and native bees. To be honest, I did not expect that native bees would prefer native plants. Whereas the leaves and other vegetative parts of a plant include an array of chemical and physical defenses to protect the plant from insect herbivores, flowers have few such defenses. In fact, flowers function to attract pollinators to a plant.

Thus I was somewhat surprised when Ph.D. student, Aaron Anderson, found that most of the native plants in his study attracted more native bees and more species of native bees than his non-native comparison plants. For example, non-native lavender ‘Grosso’ attracted a large number of bees, but most of these bees were non-native honey bees. By and large, the native plants were better for bee abundance and bee diversity, compared to the non-native comparison plants. In particular, Globe Gilia, Farewell to Spring, Oregon Sunshine, Douglas Aster, and California Poppy were all particularly attractive to native, wild bees in Aaron’s study.

Why might native bees prefer native plants, when flowers don’t have the same chemical and physical deterrents that herbivores must contend with? One hypothesis is that the nectar and pollen in native plants might provide better nutrition to native bees. Another hypothesis is that pollinators are keenly tied into the visual display of native plants. Flower color, size, shape, and ultraviolet markings are all important signals that flowers use to attract the attention of various pollinators. If there are changes in any aspect of this visual display, pollinators may no longer recognize a flowering plant as a good source of pollen or nectar.

Another OSU Ph.D. student, Jen Hayes, is trying to understand why native plants seem to be preferred by native pollinators. As part of her Ph.D. work in the Garden Ecology Lab, Jen is collaborating with an OSU photography student, Svea Bruslind. Svea uses different filters to take photographs of native plants and native cultivars in visible light, ultraviolet light, and in “bee vision” light. We are just getting started on this study, but look forward to reporting our findings in the near future.


[i] Burghardt et al. 2009. Impact of native plants on bird and butterfly biodiversity in suburban landscapes. Conservation Biology 23:219–224.

[ii] Updated and expanded version published as Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Natives Plants.

Spring with the Mason Bees

Written by Mallory Mead

My name is Mallory Mead, and I am new to the Garden Ecology Lab! I am an undergrad studying Horticulture and minoring in Entomology, and I started a few weeks ago as an assistant to Jen Hayes on her study of pollinator attraction to native plants and nativars.

I enrolled in Oregon State’s URSA Engage program, which gives undergrads a taste of research experience in the Winter and Spring of their first year, and joined a project studying how mason bees might be impacted by climate change with Dr. Jim Rivers of the department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. The study seeks to examine the effects of warming temperatures on mason bee behavior and the development of brood.

The Western US’s native species of mason bee, the Blue Orchard Bee (BOB) is known to be an excellent orchard pollinator. On many orchard crops they are more efficient at pollination than honey bees on a per individual basis, and so the commercial management of BOBs is being explored as honey bee colonies suffer management challenges and colony losses in recent years.

A mason bee nest within a reed. “DSC_0082” by tpjunier is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Mason bees have a short lifespan of 4 to 6 weeks. Emerging in the early spring, males die shortly after mating, while females build nests in holes in wood or reeds. They forage for pollen and nectar to form provision masses in which they lay their eggs. They also collect mud to form partitions between each provision mass and to cap the nest once it is full. Their offspring will feed on the provisions and metamorphose into cocooned adults to overwinter in their cells and emerge the following spring.

To ensure the bees had ample nutrient resources, the project was conducted next to the organic cherry orchard at OSU’s Lewis Brown Farm. Before the cherries bloomed, 6 nest structures were designed and constructed by Jim, Ron Spendal (a mason bee house conisuerrier) and Aaron Moore of Revolution Robotics.

Nest structures, solar panels, and camcorders at Lewis Brown Farm.

Each structure has 3 shelves with 16 nest holes each, lined with paper straws so that the nests can be easily removed and examined. The structures are solar powered, and each shelf is heated to a different increment above the ambient temperature i.e. + 0°C , + 2°C, + 4°C, + 6°C, + 8°C, + 10 °C, and + 12°C. These differentials represent many potential warming outcomes of climate change.

Nest Structure Number 2 with labelled component parts. A. The Electronics control box. B. Cocoon-release box. C. Shelves sandwiched by heating pads, and lined with paper nesting straws

Our Hypotheses

  • We predicted that female mason bees will select the warmer nests first, and that females will leave nests earlier in the morning to begin foraging because they will reach the critical internal temperature necessary for flight sooner.
  • If heated bees have a greater window of foraging time, then we predict they’ll be able to construct nests at a faster rate in the warmer nests.
  • With greater nest construction will come a greater production of offspring from the bees in the warmed nests.

But…

  • In terms of offspring quality, we predict that offspring of heated nests will emerge as weak individuals and mortality will be the highest for the heated brood.

…and we are pretty confident about this last prediction.

Insects are poikilothermic meaning their internal temperatures are determined by the environment. Past studies by researchers Bosch and Kemp have reported that mason bees who are overwintered at warm temperatures will “use up their metabolic reserves and are likely to die during the winter”. And a more recent study by researchers at the University of Arizona found that mason bees subjected to heating resulted in reduced body mass, fat content and high mortality of the mason bee offspring.

Data Collection

One of the latest male mason bees to emerge, surrounded by empty cocoons in the release box.

Our mason bees started hatching from cocoons in mid-April and began to colonize the nest structures. I captured video footage of the bees as they emerged in the morning to forage. If bees from heated nest sites emerge earlier, this will support our hypotheses that they reach their critical-for-flight temperature earlier, and get a leg-up on foraging compared to their neighbors.

I also conducted “nest checks” to track the rate of nest construction along with two other research assistants.

In the fall, the nest tubes will be extracted to examine the reproductive output, and in the following spring, offspring will be assessed for rates of mortality, offspring mass, and fat content.

Obstacles

Some of the challenges along the way have included dealing with insect pests. Spiders were easygoing inhabitants of the nest straws, for they only nested in empty straws, so we’d swap them out for a clean one. The earwigs were much more pervasive, and went for the already inhabited nests. As generalist foragers, the earwigs took advantage of provision balls of nectar and pollen that had not yet been sealed off by mud. Once I read that earwigs will indeed eat the mason bee eggs that are laid into the provision masses, I knew it was crucial to remove the earwigs from all nests, but these feisty creatures proved determined to stay. We ordered some tanglefoot, a sticky substance to trap the earwigs on their way up the structure post, and meanwhile I coaxed earwigs out with tiny pieces of grass. Jabbing them repeatedly would eventually provoke them to charge at the blade of grass and fall out from the straw.

Yellowjackets were another opportunistic nester. They’d sneak into the cocoon boxes to build nests, and always gave me a start when opening the tiny boxes. I removed their nests with an extended grabber tool and would destroy them in any way I could. I feel immensely lucky not to have been stung through this process.

The most terrifying surprise during the project was a fat snake that was living in the solar panel battery box. It popped out at me hissing while I conducted a routine check. Alas, I was too spooked to take on this unexpected visitor and let it leave on its own time.

Preliminary Findings & Observations

By mid-May, a pretty clear pattern was emerging. At each structure, the control shelf’s nests (+ 0 °C) were full and capped with mud, while the hottest shelves were almost completely empty. We will analyze nest check data to confirm that these patterns are not just arising by chance, but a study that was released this past April showed another species of mason bee in Poland following the same pattern of nest site preference and selection for cooler nest sites.

The mason bees’ unexpected behavior of avoiding the heated chambers may lead to trouble during the second part of the experiment because this means our sample size for heated offspring has become so tiny, but here it is important to note that this is mason bee project is a pilot study and so the data collected this year will simply influence more specific future research.

these preliminary findings make me think that mason bees have an ingrained sense to avoid warm nests, which might show mason bees’ adaptability in the face of climate change, that is, if they can manage to continue finding cool nests. People managing mason bees find that nests facing the morning sun are the most attractive to the bees, but I wonder how long it will be before temperatures rise and mason bees start avoiding these sunny nests.

Moving Forward

By the end of May, I’d only see a few the mason bees per visit, so the season was clearly coming to an end. I wrapped up data collection and am now spending the summer extracting data from the video footage, and checking up on the bees to ensure they are safe and sound until Fall inspections.

I am wishing the best to both the wild bees in our region and those in our study, as the temperatures skyrocket this week but with this summer’s heat wave, I don’t think we need to simulate climate change; it is right here before us. Even though it is practically inevitable that temperatures will rise to dangerous heights in my generation’s lifetime, there is so much life to be saved, and there is no time to waste.

“Blue Orchard Bee, Osmia lignaria” by SeabrookeLeckie.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0″