Our Trial Garden features native plants and their cultivars in orderly rows so that we may directly compare the plants’ beauty, vigor and pollinator support. Sam Hoadley, Manager of Horticultural Research, can be found among the trials measuring plant size and evaluating floral display on a daily basis. This week, he published an update on our current trials of Helenium, Echinacea, Hydrangea arborescens, and Vernonia on the Ecological Landscape Alliance’s website.
Below is an excerpt. To read the full post, click here.
“Mt. Cuba is keenly interested in the ecosystem services of native plants and how those benefits can be evaluated and quantified. Through Mt. Cuba Center’s volunteer community scientists and relationships with the University of Delaware, pollinator data and observations are recorded and analyzed. Their findings and conclusions feature prominently in Mt. Cuba’s research reports.
“The Pollinator Watch Team, Mt. Cuba’s own contingent of 24 volunteer community scientists, provides the boots on the ground necessary for the collection of large quantities of valuable data. While observational techniques differ depending on the anatomy of the evaluated genera or on what questions are being asked by the trial, many of the procedures remain the same. One plant, or inflorescence, is observed 60 seconds, and all the targeted pollinators (hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, etc.) are counted and recorded. This can be a time-consuming but valuable process considering that trials can range from 45 to 90 accessions and that there are up to four trials running at any given time. Weather conditions and time of day are also noted so that correlations can be drawn for conditions that favor the highest pollinator activity. Members of the team sign up for scheduled shifts to allow for multiple data sets per week. This system results in dozens of observations made on each plant over the course of one year. At the end of a three-year trial enough data is collected to draw valuable conclusions about which plants attracted the most pollinators.
“To be a top performing plant in Mt. Cuba Center’s trials, it is not enough to be an attractive garden plant alone. Our top performers should show some ecological benefit for them to receive our seal of approval. Pollinator data continues to be collected and evaluated in the Trial Garden. Genera currently under evaluation with specific emphasis of pollinator visitation include Echinacea, Hydrangea arborescens, and Vernonia.”