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Herbaceous perennial ornamental plants can support complex pollinator communities

Cite this dataset

Erickson, Emily (2022). Herbaceous perennial ornamental plants can support complex pollinator communities [Dataset]. Dryad.


Human-designed landscapes can host diverse pollinator communities, and the availability of floral resources is central to supporting insect biodiversity in highly modified environments. However, some urban landscapes have relatively few pollinator-attractive plant species and management in urban environments rarely considers the function of these plants in generating and supporting a stable ecological community. Evaluations of 25 cultivars within five commercially popular herbaceous perennial ornamental plant genera (Agastache, Echinacea, Nepeta, Rudbeckia, and Salvia) revealed variation in the total and proportional abundance of visitors attracted. These varieties supported multiple pollinator functional groups, however bees were the primary visitors to in this system. Cultivars were assessed according to their function within a plant-pollinator network. Comparisons of artificial networks created with the six most attractive and six least attractive cultivars demonstrated that a planting scheme using the most attractive cultivars would attract nearly four times as many bee species, including several specialists and rare species. Plant diversity in the landscape was correlated with abundance and diversity of pollinator visitors, demonstrating that community context shapes a plant’s relative attractiveness to pollinators. We conclude that herbaceous perennial cultivars can support an abundance and diversity of pollinator visitors, however, planting schemes should take into consideration the effects of cultivar, landscape plant diversity, floral phenology, floral area, and contribution to a stable ecological community.


This data was collected at two sites at the Penn State Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research in Pine Grove Furnace, PA (Site 1 = 40.704634, -77.973045, Site 2 = 40.712329, -77.933609). At both sites, plants were arranged in a randomized complete block design with four blocks per site and one replicate of each cultivar per block, for a total of 100 plants at each site. Blocks were separated by 1.5m borders; plants within blocks were spaced 1m apart. In 2018, plants were placed directly in the ground at Sites 1 and 2. In 2019, plants were in pots at Site 1. Pollinator visitation was recorded by two observers (R. Kaneshiki and E. Erickson) in 2018 and one observer (E. Erickson) in 2019. To account for variation in daily pollinator activity cycles the order of observations was randomized for each data collection session. All plants were observed weekly in sets of four for 10 minutes once between the hours of 9:00 and 13:00 (AM) and once between 13:01 and 17:00 (PM). Observations were recorded throughout the duration of bloom from June 7 to September 12, 2018 and May 21 to September 11, 2019. Each pollinating insect that visited the focal plant during the observation period was identified to morphotaxa 

Usage notes

NA indicates a plant was not flowering and thus was not observed.

Please disregard 'Week' variable in all but the GDD dataset, you will see we account for this in the code.

Cultivar codes: 

AGA = Agastache

ABA = 'Black Adder'

ABF = 'Blue Fortune'

AFOEN = 'Foeniculum'

ASG = 'Summer Glow'

AHEAT = 'Heatwave'

ECH = Echinacea

EOS = 'Orange Skipper'

EPB = 'Pica Bella'

EMAG = 'Magnus'

EPWW = 'Pow Wow White'

EBSS = 'Big Sky Sundown'

NEP = Nepeta

NFAAS = 'Faassenni'

NSNO = 'Snowflake'

NWL = 'Walker's Low'

NJW = 'Jr. Walker'

NLT = 'Little Titch'

RUD = Rudbeckia

RFULG = 'Fulgida'

RGOLD = 'Goldsturm'

RHERB = 'Herbstonne'

RIS = 'Indian Summer'

RTRI = 'Triloba'

SAL = Salvia

SEF = 'East Friesland'

SMN = 'May Night'

SBM = 'Blue Marvel'

SSNO = 'Snowhill'

SCARA = 'Caradonna'

Site 1 = Diebler; Site 2 = Switchgrass