If You Grow It, They Will Come: Ornamental Plants Impact the Abundance and Diversity of Pollinators and Other Flower-Visiting Insects in Gardens
Gardening for pollinators and other flower-visiting insects, where ornamental landscaping plants are added to provide habitats and foraging resources, may provide substantial benefits to declining insect populations. However, plant recommendations often lack empirical grounding or are limited geographically. Here, we created a pollinator garden, replicated across two sites, that contained 25 ornamental landscape plants that were either native or non-native to mid-Atlantic states and perennial or annual. Our objective was to determine the plants that would bring insect abundance and diversity to gardens. We surveyed the number and taxonomy of insects visiting the plants for two summers. We found a significant effect of plant species on both the abundance and diversity of flower-visiting insects. Insects were 42 times more abundant on our most visited plant (black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida) versus our least visited plant (petunia, Petunia sp.). There was more than one diversity point difference in the Shannon index between the plant with the most (purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea) and least (verbena, Verbena bonariensis) diverse visitors. Across our plants, honey bee (Apis mellifera) abundance positively correlated with other insect pollinators, although not specifically with wild bee abundance. Native perennials outperformed non-native perennials and non-native annuals in insect abundance, and both non-native and native perennials attracted more diversity than non-native annuals. Across plants, diversity scores quadratically related to insect abundance, where the highest diversity was seen on the plants with medium abundance. Lastly, we present the weighted sums of all insect visitors per plant, which will allow future gardeners to make informed landscaping decisions. Overall, we have shown that gardening schemes could benefit from a data-driven approach to better support abundant and diverse insect populations within ornamental landscape gardens.