Evaluation of native and nonnative ornamentals as pollinator plants in Florida: II. Floral resource value.
Consumer demand for novel, visually attractive ornamentals has often overshadowed the functional value plants may provide for flower-visiting insects. As native and nonnative species are hybridized for form, color, flowering, and disease resistance, it is important to assess whether some of these alterations influence plant nutrient quality for foraging insect pollinators. A study was conducted to ascertain the resource value of ornamental cultivars compared with their native congeners. The nectar volume and pollen quantity, viability, and protein content of 10 species of popular herbaceous flowering plants, commonly advertised as pollinator-friendly, were evaluated in northcentral Florida. Each genus encompassed a native and nonnative species, apart from pentas. Native species included blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella), lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), pineland lantana (Lantana depressa), and scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea). Nonnative species included Barbican™ yellow-red ring blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata 'Gaiz005'), Bloomify™ rose lantana (Lantana camara 'UF-1011-2'), mysty salvia (Salvia longispicata × farinacea 'Balsalmysty'), Lucky Star® dark red pentas (Pentas lanceolata 'PAS1231189'), ruby glow pentas (Pentas lanceolata 'Ruby glow') and UpTick™ Gold & Bronze coreopsis (Coreopsis × 'Baluptgonz'). Floral rewards differed significantly across species. The native scarlet sage exhibited the largest nectar volume per flower in the summer (2.13 ± 0.17 µL), followed by the nonnative mysty salvia (1.26 ± 0.17 µL). In the fall, ruby glow pentas exhibited the largest nectar volume per flower (1.09 ± 0.17 µL) compared with all other ornamentals. The composite flowers of the native and nonnative blanket flower and coreopsis species had the lowest nectar volume per flower regardless of sampling date. Likewise, ruby glow pentas displayed the highest quantity of pollen grains (96.29 ± 0.12) per sample, followed by Lucky star pentas (52.33 ± 0.12), and Barbican blanket flower (50.98 ± 0.12). Pollen viability was similarly high (92% to 98%) among all species, apart from Bloomify rose lantana (20%) and pineland lantana (48%). Pollen protein content was highest in Uptick coreopsis (11.378 ± 1.860 μg/mg dry weight) and Lucky star pentas (10.656 ± 3.726 μg/mg dry weight), followed by lanceleaf coreopsis (7.918 ± 1.793 μg/mg dry weight). These results largely showed that the nonnative ornamentals selected provided resource-rich floral rewards, comparable to native congeners. Still, care should be taken in making similar assessments of other modern floral types.