Native Plants and Native Cultivars

In 2019 and 2020 we established an experimental garden at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture (OCCUH) on Oregon State University’s Campus to examine pollinator visitation to Oregon native plants and native cultivars (often called “Nativars”). This project was inspired by the work of Annie White and Leonard Perry at the University of Vermont; their project compared pollinator preference for Vermont native flowering herbaceous perennials and native cultivars.

For our study, which will make up Jen’s graduate thesis, we selected both perennial and annual flowering plants, which were found in Aaron’s research to have varying attractiveness to pollinators (low, moderate, and highly attractive). We selected plants across a spectrum of attractiveness because we are curious if nativars may exhibit traits that make plants in the ‘low’ category become highly attractive to pollinators.

Jen’s research garden beds at Oak Creek Center for Urban Hort. Photo taken during summer 2020.

Our Study Plants

Native SpeciesNative Cultivar 1Native Cultivar 2Native Cultivar 3
Achillea millefolium‘Calistoga’‘Moonshine’‘Salmon Beauty’
Aquilegia formosa‘Xera Tones’n/an/a
Camassia leichtlinii‘Caerulea Blue Heaven’‘Sacajawea’n/a
Clarkia amoena‘Aurora’‘Dwarf White’‘Scarlet’
Eschscholzia californica‘Mikado’‘Purple Gleam’‘White’
Nemophila menziesii‘Penny Black’‘Snow White’n/a
Symphyotrichum subspicatum‘Sauvie Sky’‘Sauvie Snow’n/a
From Aaron’s study, plants that were found to be highly attractive include Symphyotrichum subspicatum, Eschscholzia californica, and Clarkia amoena. The moderately attractive plants are Achillea millefolium and Nemophila menziesii, and the less attractive plants are Camassia leichtlinii and Aquilegia formosa.

We will conduct twice-weekly 5-minute observation and collect physical pollinator specimens visiting our study plants to understand if there are any changes in pollinator preference for the natives versus nativars. We will then measure aspects of floral display, including floral dimensions, color, total number of blooms, bloom duration, and additionally attempt to recreate “bee vision” of flowers using multispectral photography. The multispectral photography will be done by Svea Bruslind, an URSA-Engage student in the Garden Ecology Lab (blog post on Svea’s work coming soon!).

In addition to measuring physical flower traits, we are interested in seeing if breeding of native plants has changed the rewards that plants provide to pollinators (including pollen and nectar). Floral rewards will be analyzed by collecting samples of pollen and nectar from our study plants. We will compare 5 aspects of pollen nutrition (including amino acid, lipid, and phyotsterol content) across the plant complexes as well as measure the volume of nectar produced by our plants and the sugar content of the nectar.

We completed our first season of pollinator sampling and observations in 2020. Our second field season is beginning to wrap up this summer (2021), and we hope to have at least one or two more field seasons in the following years.

Stay up to date on the Native Plants and Native Cultivars Research Project by subscribing to our blog or checking for new posts by Jen. This project is supported by a Garden Club of America Grant.