Nativars Research Project

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We know that native bees, butterflies, and other pollinators have a preference for native wildflowers and trees.

One of the questions many of us in the garden business get is about cultivated varieties of native plants, sometimes called “nativars”. Nativars can be different from their native parents in flower color and scent, the shape or number of flowers and petals, phenology, foliage color, and more. Since color, scent, timing, and size of flowers are very important to pollinators, it is easy to imagine that nativars might be more, or less, attractive to pollinators than the wild (native) species. They may even attract a different group of pollinators all together. Gardeners and scientists alike are wondering:

Do nativars provide the same resources
for pollinators as their wild cousins?

Scientists need your help to answer this important question.

How?

Join the Nativars Project and become a pollinator observer!

  1.  Create your Budburst account or login to sign up for the Nativars Project

  2.  Plant your garden 

  3.  Hone your skills 

  4.  Stay informed

  5.  Submit your data!

baptisia culitvar comparison photo
Which one of us would win a bee popularity contest?
False indigo (Baptisia australis for those who love latin) is native species with many popular cultivars, including Baptisia 'Lunar Eclipse', Baptisia 'Midnight' and Baptisia 'Twilight.' As you can see, flower color varies dramatically. However, we do not know if this variation impacts pollinator use.

Where?

Almost everywhere! Four botanic gardens (Chicago Botanic Garden, Denver Botanic Gardens, San Diego Botanical Garden and Mt. Cuba Center) are joining forces with citizen scientist across the country to investigate whether nativars provide the same pollinator service as natives. In spring 2018, we will plant popular native species alongside their nativars to compare pollinator use.

The project includes plants suitable for most US locations. Check the project species table to select plants appropriate for your growing zone.

What?

Participation is easy! We are asking participants to watch plants until they come into bloom, and then complete weekly 10 minute observations while flowers are blooming and record the number and type of pollinators that visit. Data will be uploaded via the Budburst data portal.

You can participate by:

  1. Planting some or all of our target species in your own garden (or in a large container on a porch or patio) and becoming a pollinator observer.

  2. If you're not a gardener, just visit any of our Nativar garden sites and collect and submit pollinator data from the plants there.

If you are planting these species to monitor in your own garden, be aware they need time to get established and may not all bloom the year you plant them. Don’t worry, they’ll bloom the next year and the project runs through fall 2020. You’ll have plenty of time to contribute pollinator data. In the meantime, if you are close to one of the partner sites, we encourage you to observe plants there to hone your skills and collect data!

Plant your garden

  1. Choose your plants

  2. Plan your garden

  3. Order your plants 

  4. Plant your plants

1. Choose your plants

Our scientists have identified 5 native species with four nativar cousins that grow well in each of three different climates. The species list below will help you decide which will grow best in your garden. You can choose all five native species with their nativars, or only one depending on the space you have available. Consider how they grow, how big they get, and what you personally find the most attractive.

Species List

  Chicago Botanic Garden and Mt. Cuba Center Denver Botanic Garden San Diego Botanic Garden and Leichtag Foundation
Hardiness Zone 4-8 Several have wider temperature tolerances. Plants are suited to most Midwestern and Eastern U.S. gardens. 5-8 Most have wider temperature tolerances. Some Rudbeckia varieties may not survive extreme cold at higher elevations Plants are suited to most Great Plains and Rocky Mountain region gardens. 7-9 All of these plants are suited for gardens in the southwestern U.S. and many will do well in mild climates further afield. The Achillea can withstand hard freezes.
Spring Aquilegia canadensis
Red columbine
‘Corbett’
‘Little Lantern’
‘Pink Lanterns’
‘Songbird Goldfinch’

Penstemon digitalis
Foxglove beardtongue
‘Husker Red’
‘Pocahontas'
‘Blackbeard’
Achillea millefolium
Common Yarrow
‘Pink Grapefruit’
‘Desert Eve Deep Rose’
‘Terracotta’
‘Moonshine’

Aquilegia coerulea
Colorado blue columbine
‘Colorado Violet & White’ (a.k.a. 'Remembrance’
‘Songbird Dove’
‘Songbird Cardinal’
‘Songbird Nightingale’
Achillea millefolium
Common Yarrow
‘Pink Grapefruit’
‘Terracotta’
‘Apricot Delight’
‘Saucy Seduction’

Penstemon heterophyllus
Foothill penstemon
‘Electric Blue’
‘Margarita BOP’
‘Blue Springs’
‘Catherine de la Mare’

Iris douglasiana
Douglas iris
‘Canyon Snow’
‘Pacific Coast Hybrid’
‘Canyon Sunshine’
‘Brown Velvet’

Mimulus cardinalis
Scarlet monkeyflower
‘Santa Cruz Island Gold’
‘Jelly Beans Citron’
‘Jelly Beans Vanilla Snow’
‘Red Dragon’

Sphaeralcea ambigua
Desert globemallow
‘Louis Hamilton’
‘Orange’
‘Papago Pink’
‘Pink’
 
Summer Rudbeckia fulgida
Black-eyed Susan
‘Viette's Little Suzy’
‘Goldsturm’
‘Little Goldstar’
‘American Gold Rush’
Rudbeckia hirta
Orange coneflower

‘Cherry Brandy’
‘Irish Eyes’
‘Cherokee Sunset’
‘Denver Daisy’
Mimulus cardinalis
Scarlet monkeyflower
‘Santa Cruz Island Gold’
‘Jelly Beans Citron’
‘Jelly Beans Vanilla Snow’
‘Red Dragon’

Sphaeralcea ambigua
Desert globemallow
‘Louis Hamilton’
‘Orange’
‘Papago Pink’
‘Pink’
 
Fall Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
New England aster
‘Purple Dome’
‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’
‘Harrington’s Pink’
‘Vibrant Dome’

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
Aromatic aster
‘Dream of Beauty’
‘October Skies’
‘Raydon’s Favorite’
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
New England aster
‘Purple Dome’
‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’
‘Septemberrubin’
‘Mrs S T Wright’

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
Aromatic aster
‘Dream of Beauty’
‘October Skies’
‘Raydon’s Favorite’
‘Raydon’s Birthday Pink’
 
Mimulus cardinalis
Scarlet monkeyflower
‘Santa Cruz Island Gold’
‘Jelly Beans Citron’
‘Jelly Beans Vanilla Snow’
‘Red Dragon’

Sphaeralcea ambigua
Desert globemallow

‘Louis Hamilton’
‘Orange’
‘Papago Pink’
‘Pink’
Winter     Iris douglasiana
Douglas iris
‘Canyon Snow’
‘Pacific Coast Hybrid’
‘Canyon Sunshine’
‘Brown Velvet’
 

2. Plan your garden

The plants selected for the Nativars Project may be small when you bring them home, but they won’t stay that way!  If you are only planning to leave these plants in your garden for the length of the project (through 2020), plant them two feet apart. If you’d like to leave them permanently in your garden, plant them at 3-4 feet apart. They’ll live many years (to decades in some cases).

These plants should do well in typical garden soil, not too wet or dry, and full sun. Some will tolerate light shade (particularly the columbine, Aquilegia).  Follow typical gardening practices, watering well when planted and regularly through the first growing season if the soil dries out. After they are well-established they should be able to handle longer dry periods. Plants can be cut back when completely dormant if desired.

No gardening space? No problem! Several of these species can be grown in large containers on a balcony or patio. Those particularly suited to containers include Achillea, Aquilegia, Rudbeckia, and Penstemon.

3. Order your plants

Once you’ve chosen your plants and designed your garden, it’s time to order plants and get them in the ground!

Many nativars are available at big box stores and local nurseries. However, you may need to find a nursery that specializes in native plants to find the native (“wild”) type. When purchasing the wild type, make sure the label does not include any second name. Cultivated species will have a cultivar name listed in quotes after the species name (e.g. Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’).

Ideally, plants can be planted in the spring after the date of the last frost and in the early fall. You may also plant throughout the summer, but make sure that they are well watered to withstand mid-summer heat.

4. Plant your plants

(Planting instructions coming soon)

Conduct Pollinator Observations

Data collection is the same whether you are observing plants in your backyard or at a partner institution. You will need:

  • Data sheet OR mobile device
  • Timer (e.g. wristwatch, phone, etc.)
  • Meter stick
  • Approximation of the temperature (e.g. phone weather app, outdoor thermometer, etc.)

Instructions are for observing a complete species set at the same time, including the wild type and nativars. If you are collecting and submitting data through the web portal, data can only be collected for one plant at a time. You can either observe each type separately or you can print out a data collection sheet and enter the data afterwards.

First things first

Before starting your 10-minute observation, we need to know a few things about the weather and the plants. Pollinators are most active on warm, sunny days between 10 am and 2 pm. If possible, conduct your observations under these conditions.

  1. Record the date, the approximate temperature (°F), and cloud cover.
  2. Measure the height of the each plant from the soil to the tallest tip in centimeters (cm).
  3. Note the phenological stage of each plant (early, middle, or late flower).
  4. Count the number of flowers or flower heads for each plant, depending on what species you are observing. 

Now you are ready to start observing pollinators!

Pollinator Observations

  1. Record the start time of your observation period.
  2. Sit or stand a comfortable distance from the plant from which you can clearly see insects but not interfere with their visitation.
  3. Each time a pollinator touches a flower, make a mark for the appropriate plant and pollinator type.
  4. Continue to observe for 10 minutes.
  5. Record the end time of your observation period.
  6. Submit your data!

FAQ

Do I have to grow all five members of a species set (1 native species & 4 nativars)?

No. Pollinator observations for any of these plants are valuable, but comparing the wild type to one or more nativars is highly recommended.

I want to do this with my class, will any plants bloom during the school year?

Yes. Some project plants will bloom during the school year, either spring or fall. Choose the species that work best with your schedule. Bloom times are listed in the species table on the Nativars project page.

Can I observe pollinators on multiple plants at once?

It depends on how you collect your data. If you collect pollinator data using our printable data sheet, you can observe up to five plants at once. If you collect and submit data directly using your mobile device, you can only observe one plant at a time.

If you still have questions, feel free to reach out to a Budburst Scientist.