Petal-cutting Bees!

A study of leafcutter bees and a PNW native flower, through the lens of iNaturalist.

The Clarkia Project team: Mallory Mead, Jen Hayes, Sarah Erskine, and Ali Filipovic

If you are a subscriber to our blog, you have likely seen our photos and videos of one of our favorite plant-pollinator interactions: the petals of Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia amoena) being harvested by leafcutter bees!

After observing this eccentric harvest behavior in the research garden, we got curious about the bees behind the petal-nest craft, and how we could study this interaction further.

Leafcutter bee mid-petal-harvest! Photo by Devon Johnson.
Crescent-shaped petal-cuts left behind by leafcutter bees.

iNaturalist is a popular community-supported biodiversity database that the Garden Ecology Lab has been experimenting with in recent years. Jen realized that the leafcutter bees’ distinct crescent-shaped mark are visible in many iNaturalist observations of Clarkia amoena. She wondered how we could use the already sizeable iNaturalist database of Clarkia amoena observations to study the interaction over a wider geographic and chronological scale than that of the research garden. Jen and Gail agreed to mentor me in producing an undergraduate research thesis on this subject.

The study’s objective is to use iNaturalist’s data on Clarkia amoena to see if there is a difference in leafcutter bee usage of Clarkia amoena petals based on whether the flower is a native versus a cultivar type, and whether the flower is found in an urban or non-urban environment.

In this process we have found that iNaturalist is easy for anyone to contribute to, but the information it provides is limited compared to the wealth of contextual information gained when being in the actual, living presence of a specimen. So, to get a greater feel for the intricacies of this flower, I embarked on what we called “Ground-Truthing Field Trips” to check out some Clarkia amoena populations in the “real world”.

I went out during peak pollinator season, following the coordinates of recently posted iNaturalist observations. Each specimen I visited was incredibly different from the next. I found the delicate blossoms in natural areas, the borders of farmland, restoration sites, and gardens.

Data from these trips will not be published in my thesis because the contexts are not exactly comparable, and my sampling was exploratory rather than precise. Nonetheless, I gained contextual insight and inspiration watching diverse pollinator assemblages in beautiful meadows of pink.

Mallory at a meadow restoration site near Corvallis with Clarkia amoena and tarweed (Madia elegans).

The field trips have helped us more clearly see through the window of iNaturalist and have informed the methodology we use.

For example, I saw examples of hybridization between two species of Clarkia in a seeded restoration site, and cultivar-hybrid escapees in natural areas. It’s been important to navigate identification of cultivars and hybrids in iNaturalist.

In a restoration prairie seeded with two different Clarkia species, pollinators cross-pollinate them, giving rise to sterile hybrids (Lewis & Raven, 1958). Note the malformed stigma and anthers.

Simultaneously, our field crew recorded petal-cutting behavior on the Clarkia amoena natives and nativars at Jen’s research garden this summer. Below are the three cultivars in the garden, and if you look closely you can see “petal-cuts” which we counted and recorded weekly. We will analyze the difference in leafcutter usage between the cultivars and native type.

This hot pink, stripy Clarkia doesn’t look like either the native or cultivars we had planted!

Clarkia amoena is an annual that reseeds itself effectively, so last year’s seeds gave rise to this season’s blooms. To our surprise, however, Clarkia amoena of all different colors started popping up in our research plots this Spring! Last season’s bees had combined pollen from the garden’s varieties bringing rise to all sorts of intermediate forms.

Clarkia amoena is prone to hybridization between members of the species or cultivars in the same proximity. These intraspecific hybrids are fertile. We seek to explore how cultivar genetics may be moving into natural populations.

Through the winter, our team is working with the iNaturalist data to quantify leafcutter bee petal usage. We expect to share our results in June 2023, so stick around to hear about our findings!

Work Cited:

Lewis, H., & Raven, P. H. (1958). Rapid Evolution in Clarkia. Society for the Study of Evolution, 12(3), 319‚Äď336.

2022 Field Update: Native plants & native cultivars

This summer we completed our third and final field season surveying pollinator visitation to native plants and native cultivars! We will maintain our experimental garden for one additional season, to finish up some plant measurements and data collection missed in our initial three seasons. This post will serve as a 2022 field update in addition to summarizing some of our preliminary results from our field observations!


Study Plants (2020-2022)

PhotoScientific NameCommon NamePlant Type
Achillea millefoliumYarrowNative

Achillea millefolium

‘Calistoga’*
YarrowCultivar

Achillea millefolium

‘Salmon Beauty’
YarrowCultivar

Achillea millefolium

‘Moonshine’**
YarrowCultivar
Aquilegia formosaWestern Red
Columbine
Native
Aquilegia x ‘XeraTones’Cultivar (hybrid)
Camassia leichtliniiGreat CamasNative
Camassia leichtlinii
‘Caerulea Blue Heaven’
Great CamasCultivar
Camassia leichtlinii
‘Sacajawea’
Great CamasCultivar
Symphyotrichum
subspicatum
Douglas’ AsterNative
S. subspicatum
‘Sauvie Sky’
Douglas’ AsterCultivar
S. subspicatum
‘Sauvie Snow’
Douglas’ AsterCultivar
Clarkia amoenaFarewell-to-springNative
Clarkia amoena
‘Aurora’
Farewell-to-springCultivar
Clarkia amoena
‘Dwarf White’
Farewell-to-springCultivar
Clarkia amoena
‘Scarlet’**
Farewell-to-springCultivar
Eschscholzia
californica
California PoppyNative
E. californica
‘Mikado’
California PoppyCultivar
E. californica
‘White’
California PoppyCultivar
E. californica
‘Purple Gleam’**
California PoppyCultivar
Nemophila menziesiiBaby Blue EyesNative
(California)
N. menziesii
‘Penny black’
Baby Black EyesCultivar
N. menziesii
‘Snow White’
Baby Blue EyesCultivar
Sidalcea asprella
ssp. virgata***
Rosy checkermallowNative
Sidalcea malviflora
‘Purpetta’***
Cultivar
Sidalcea malviflora
‘Party Girl’***
Cultivar
*Discontinued in 2021 due to lack of vigor and availability of replacement plants
**Added in 2021 to replace removed plants
***Discontinued after 2020 due to taxonomic inconsistencies

We conducted 5-minute visual observations on our study plants over three seasons. During these observations, we recorded all insects that interacted with a plant. These interactions included foraging, resting, basking, mating, etc. We recorded insect IDs to morphological group levels, as many bees are hard to identify to species in the field! We were able to identify common bumble bees, honey bees, butterflies, and a few other insects to the species level, but many were identified to groups for ease (e.g. ‘green bees’, ‘black bees’, ‘leafcutter bees’).

Field Season Stats

Year# Sample Dates# Collected Pollinators# Observed Pollinators
20202821596238
20213324716225
202229~2000~4700
Number of sampling dates, total number of collected pollinator specimen (via insect vacuum), and cumulative pollinators observed during 5-minute observations for each of our three field seasons.

Is there a difference in native bee visitation to native plants and their cultivars?

Graphs of cumulative and mean foraging native bees from 5-minute observations conducted over three field seasons. Plant Type (y-axis) is abbreviated with a 6 letter code, e.g. “SYMSUB” = Symphyotrichum subspicatum = Douglas’ Aster. Natives have a box around each bar, and cultivars can be identified by an underscore followed by 1-2 letters, e.g., SYMSUB_SN = Symphyotrichum subspicatum ‘Sauvie Snow’ = a native cultivar of Douglas’ Aster with white petals.

Our initial graphs show a subtle preference for native types by native bees. Douglas’ Aster, California Poppy, Farewell to Spring, and Columbine (4/7) have higher visitation by native bees when looking at cumulative and mean counts. The difference is marginal for Douglas’ Aster, but trends for the other three plants are strong. The remaining three species (Yarrow, Baby Blue Eyes, Camas) are difficult to assess, based on these figures alone.

Across these seven species, we do see differences in visitation between natives (wild types) and native cultivars. Whether these differences are statistically significant, and whether there is a trend across all plant groups, remains to be seen!!!


Subscribe to the Garden Ecology Blog to receive future updates on native-cultivar research and more news from the lab.


I want to recognize my amazing Bee Team this year, as this field season would not have been possible without them! I am grateful for all of their hard work and their success in managing this project while I was away numerous times this season. They are thoughtful, inquisitive, and resourceful students, all of whom would make amazing lab or field technicians upon their graduation this spring! Nicole is not pictured below, but also deserves recognition for all her contributions to this project. Thank you all ūüźĚ

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: WEEK 10!!

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Douglas Aster!

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 10, which marks the end of our 10-week series! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Melissodes visits Douglas Aster. Photo by Tyler Spofford.

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Symphyotrichum subspicatum
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Growth Habit: Vigorous spreader, spreads through underground rhizomes
  • Bloom Duration: July-November
  • Hardiness Zone: 6-9
  • Special Traits: Drought tolerant, deer resistant
  • When to plant: Starts can be planted in the spring or early fall.

Pollinator Facts

  • Douglas aster provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors.
  • Aaron’s research found three species of long-horned bees (Melissodes robustior, M. lupinus, and M. microstictus) and three species of bees from the family Halictidae (Halictus ligatus, Agapostemon texanus angelicus and A. virescens) to be associated with Douglas aster.
  • Other common visitors to Douglas aster include syrphid flies and northern checkerspot butterflies! Douglas aster may also be a larval host to 8 different month species1.
Photo by ¬© mandamasprime, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC).

Douglas Aster‘s Native Range in Oregon

Douglas aster is native to Northwestern Oregon and most of the coast.

Maps and legend acquired from the Oregon Flora Project, with Imagery Sourced from Google. Copyright 2022© TerraMetrics

Douglas Aster as a pollinator plant

Douglas aster is native to Western North American with a range extending from Alaska to California. It has an impressive ability to spread and a high volume of flowers that buzz with pollinator activity throughout its long bloom season. Hosting a high abundance and diversity of bee visitors, Douglas aster is a pollinator plant superstar. It is particularly valuable as a late-season pollinator plant, able to provide both nectar and pollen to its visitors when these resources may otherwise be scarce in the landscape.

People often have strong reactions towards Douglas Aster – they either love it, or find it to be “weedy” in appearance. We hope that this highlight may help some people change their opinions about it! We in the Garden Ecology Lab love Douglas Aster for its abundant blooms in varying shades of purple and for its great capacity for supporting wildlife. In the late summer, we love watching the diversity of pollinators bouncing from one flower to the next! Some common visitors to Douglas Aster that we see at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture include bumblebees, green bees, long-horned bees, small sweat bees, and butterflies, including the woodland skipper (pictured below) and the occasional grey hairstreak (Strymon melinus).

Here, we see a woodland skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides) foraging from Douglas Aster!
Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.

Did you know?

By mid to late summer, Douglas aster is quite the frenzied pollinator feeding ground, making the Oak Creek team’s sampling effort always a bit of a challenge. These photos are from 2 years after these plants were established, so you can see just how full these young plants can get when grown in favorable conditions!

At Oak Creek, we started all of our Douglas Aster plots with 4x 4″ pots, planted in the spring of 2020. As you can see in the photos below, they easily filled up their 1×1 meter beds! If you’re worried about Douglas Aster taking over your garden, consider starting with a single plant and observe it over the season to see how it reacts to your garden environment. Aggressive spreaders can be used to fill spaces such as borders with forest edges or along fences where low maintenance plants are key. If you want to contain your asters, consider planting some in a large pot or in an area where you can easily control the spread of their underground rhizomes. The purple flowers contrast beautifully with other late season natives, such as goldenrod and Madia.

Jen standing next to her Douglas Aster experimental plots. Photo by Tyler Spofford.
Tyler vacuum sampling bees off of a Douglas Aster plot. Photo by Jen Hayes.

Photos from the field

Thanks for tuning in to the last posting of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign! We hope you try growing some of these fantastic pollinators plants.

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: Week 9

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. California Poppy!

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 9! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Photo by Jen Hayes

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Eschscholzia californica
  • Life Cycle: Annual/Perennial
  • Growth Habit: Clumping, sprawling
  • Bloom Duration: Early Spring to Late Summer depending on seeding date.
  • Hardiness Zone: 7-10
  • Special Traits: Drought-tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant.
  • When to plant: Seed in Fall for a Spring bloom, or seed in Spring for a mid-summer bloom.

Pollinator Facts

  • California poppy only provides pollen to its insect visitors, but provides it in an abundance!
  • Aaron’s study found California poppy to be associated with 4 species of sweat bees: Halictus farinosus, H. tripartitus, Lasioglossum dialictus sp. 5, L. olympiae, and a bumblebee: Bombus vosnesenskii.
  • Other common visitors to California poppy include butterflies, specifically, acmon blue and mormon metalmark.

Sweat bee leaving a California poppy. Photo by Jen Hayes

California Poppy’s Native Range in Oregon

Oregon's populations of California poppy are primarily found in the Willamette Valley and the Klamath Mountains as well as some parts of the Columbia River Gorge and the Coast Range.

Maps and legend acquired from the Oregon Flora Project, with Imagery Sourced from Google. Copyright 2021© TerraMetrics

California poppy as a pollinator plant

California poppy’s range extends from Washington to northwest Baja California and east towards Arizona and southwest New Mexico. A popular flower for roadside plantings, California poppy survives well in average to poor soil that is well-draining. It survives mild-winters as an herbaceous perennial and reseeds itself readily. California poppy is an all-around easy pollinator plant to grow, and growing it pays off, as it attracts an incredible diversity and abundance of bees with its remarkable volumes of pollen.

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

Did you know?

California poppy’s petals are responsive to light! In the absence of light (at night and on cloudy days) petals spiral around each other and tighten to a close. In the presence of light, cells in the petals expand in response to the plant growth hormone auxin. This mechanism opens the petals allowing pollinators to access the flower’s pollen — although in the field we watch impatient bumblebees force their way into closed California poppy flowers to get to the pollen anyways.

Petals close tight during the night and remain so on overcast days. Photo by iNaturalist user metacom CC some rights reserved
Poppies in various stages of opening and poppy buds enclosed in pinkish-green calyxes. Photo by iNaturalist user Daniel Das CC some rights reserved

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 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‚Äôs 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 7

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Farewell-to-Spring!

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 7! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Photo by Jen Hayes.

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Clarkia amoena
  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Growth Habit: Upright, clumping
  • Bloom Duration: June – September
  • Hardiness Zone: 1-11
  • Special Traits: Drought tolerant, deer resistant
  • When to plant: For best results, direct seed in Fall or early Spring. Seeds can also be sown in containers or cold frames in the winter.

Pollinator Facts

  • Farewell-to-Spring was found to be associated with Megachile brevis, a species of leafcutter bee.
  • Other common bee visitors include long-horned bees of the genus Eucerini and other species of leafcutter bees.
  • Farewell-to-Spring also hosts some butterflies and moths including the White-Lined Sphinx, Pacific Green Sphinx Moth, and Clark’s Day Sphinx Moth.
  • Farewell-to-Spring provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors.
  • Although pollen is easily accessed on the protruding stamen, bees must dive into the flower to reach the nectar that is produced beneath the petals. This is because nectar is produced at the base of the ovary, and Farewell-to-Spring has an “inferior ovary” meaning the ovary is positioned below the sepals and petals.

A male bumble bee dives into a Farewell-to-Spring flower to reach its nectar. Photo by Jen Hayes.
Farewell-to-Spring’s nectaries are found beneath the stamen and petals. Photo ¬© Stephanie Hazen.
 some rights reserved

Farewell-to-Spring’s Native Range in Oregon

Farewell-to-Spring is found throughout Western Oregon from the Coast through the Cascades. Oregon is home to 4 subspecies of Clarkia amoena.

Maps and legend acquired from the Oregon Flora Project, with Imagery Sourced from Google. Copyright 2021© TerraMetrics

Farewell-to-Spring as a pollinator plant

Farewell-to-Spring hosts a moderate abundance of bee visitors, but the diversity of bees it hosts is among the highest found in the study! With a long flowering season, Farewell-to-Spring blooms when spring wildflowers are beginning to turn brown. Bloom duration can be lengthened by occasional watering over the summer, although Farewell-to-Spring are drought-tolerant and survive with minimal summer irrigation. This flower is an annual, but will reseed itself readily.

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?

Leaf cutters forage for pollen, nectar, and one more surprising resource: petal clippings! Using their mandibles, the bees cut out a piece of a petal (often in the shape of a crescent), clasp the piece of petal under their abdomens, and fly away to use the petal as building material in their nests. If you keep a mason bee or leafcutter bee house in your yard and grow Farewell-to-Spring, look for nest holes that are plugged with pink petals instead of mud or leaves.

The tips of some of this flower’s petals have been harvested from by leafcutter bees:


Leafcutters in Action

In each of Jen’s two field seasons, she has set a challenge for student technicians: obtain a video of a leafcutter harvesting a piece of petal from Clarkia. Students that win the challenge are rewarded with baked goods!! This past summer, Mallory succeeded in capturing not one, but two videos of leafcutters in action (below). Leafcutters can be particularly difficult to capture on video because they cut the petal pieces very quickly, and often fly even faster! If you have Clarkia growing in your garden, look to see if your flowers bear any crescent-shaped cuts. If they do, you too might be able to spot some special bees flying away with their floral confetti.

Videos by Mallory Mead, summer 2021.

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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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! ūüźĚ

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

Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators: Week 3

The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Pearly Everlasting!

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 3! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.

Photo by Patrick Perish

Plant Facts

  • Scientific Name: Anaphalis margaritacea
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Growth Habit: Upright, clumping
  • Bloom Duration: June – October
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-8
  • Special Traits: Drought tolerant, deer resistant
  • Light requirements: Prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade
  • When to plant: Plant starts in the Spring, or sow seeds directly in the Fall.

Pollinator Facts

  • Pearly everlasting was found to be associated with two species of mining bees in Aaron‚Äôs research: Andrena cerasifolii, Andrena candida.
  • Other common visitors to Pearly Everlasting are American Lady butterflies, Painted Lady butterflies, Everlasting Tebenna moth, and Sweat bees.
  • Female and male flowers are generally found on separate Pearly Everlasting plants. This means that male plants provide nectar and pollen to insect visitors while female flowers just provide nectar.
Andrena visiting Pearly Everlasting. Photo by Aaron Anderson

Pearly Everlasting’s Native Range in Oregon

Oregon is home to three varieties of Pearly Everlasting whose native ranges extend the Cascade range, Western Oregon and parts of northeastern Oregon.

Maps and legend acquired from the Oregon Flora Project, with Imagery Sourced from Google. Copyright 2021© TerraMetrics

Pearly Everlasting as a pollinator plant

Pearly Everlasting is an herbaceous perennial commonly seen in open meadows, burned areas, rocky flats and along roadsides in dry, sun-exposed soils. Native throughout the United States, except for the Southwest, Pearly everlasting is an excellent nectar resource for pollinators, and is especially attractive to many butterfly and moth species. It makes an important larval host plant for American Lady and Painted Lady Butterflies whose seasonal feeding can leave Pearly Everlasting foliage slightly tattered, but nothing that the plant can’t recover from.

Pearly Everlasting hosts a moderate abundance and a relatively low diversity of insect visitors, but is a key host plant for its associated pollinators.

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?

As a plant that thrives in high light and very dry conditions, Pearly Everlasting is one of the first plants to colonize recently burned forests. When rain comes after a fire-season, Pearly Everlasting sends out rhizomes that allow the plant to spread rapidly across nutrient-rich areas. Similarly in a garden setting, Pearly Everlasting has low moisture and nutrient needs but when heavily watered and fertilized, it can quickly take over.

Established Pearly Everlasting should not be irrigated more than twice per month in the summer months. The white, petal-like bracts of Pearly Everlasting flowers retain a fresh appearance after being dried, so gardeners that allow aboveground growth to dry out in the summer months will be rewarded with dried flowers perfect for floral arrangements.

Photos from the field

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