Wildlife-friendly gardening practices can help conserve biodiversity in urban areas. These include growing ornamental plant varieties attractive to flower-visiting insects. Because varieties vary greatly in attractiveness, there is a need to quantify it in order to give objective advice to gardeners. Here, we used the British national collection of asters to compare the attractiveness of varieties to flower-visiting insects. We counted and identified insects as they foraged on flowers in 228 varieties growing in discrete patches that flowered during the survey period, 14 September–20 October 2012. In each variety, we also determined the overall capitulum size, the central disc floret area, and the ray floret color (blue, red, purple, or white). We also scored attributes relevant to gardening: attractiveness to humans, ease of cultivation, and availability in the United Kingdom. There was great variation among varieties in their attractiveness to insects, ranging from 0.0 to 15.2 per count per square meter, and highly skewed, with most being unattractive. A similar skew held for the two main insect categories, honey bees and hover flies, which comprised 28 and 64% of all insects, respectively. None of the floral traits or attributes relevant to gardening correlated significantly with attractiveness to insects. Our study shows the practicality of using a national collection for quantifying and comparing the attractiveness of ornamental varieties to flower-visiting insects. These results imply that choosing varieties carefully is likely to be of conservation benefit to flower-visiting insects, and that doing so is a no-cost option in terms of garden beauty and workload.
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Vol. 44 • No. 3