Border plantings provide multiple benefits
Any pollinator-friendly field border is better than no border, but it’s important to understand what strengths different plants bring to the mix, according to Ebony Murrell, a crop protection ecologist at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.
The Land Institute, which has been working to develop perennial cropping systems since 1983, recently completed a research project that compared four perennial border crops and evaluated their performance in providing pollinator services, ground cover to prevent erosion and alternative forage for livestock. Murrell, who is originally from Illinois, and research collaborator, Jessica Butters, an assistant in the entomology department at Kansas State University, wanted to explore specific differences between border plantings of various perennials under development at the Land Institute. They also compared the perennials with more traditional options such as alfalfa and native prairie mixes.
In a webinar now posted online, Murrell and Butters talked about what they learned from the project. The complete webinar can be found in the video library at LandInstitute.org.
The Land Institute is best known for its work developing perennial wheat, and one of the test plantings featured the institute’s trademarked grain, Kernza, which is essentially intermediate wheatgrass selectively bred to produce enlarged seeds.
The planting showed strong biomass production and mixed resistance to weed pressure but did a poor job of attracting pollinators, Murrell and Butters said. It also had the lowest crude protein of any of the trials.
Two plants that really seemed to excel in a wide range of areas were the cup plant and silflower.
Silflower is a perennial sunflower that is being developed as a potential oilseed crop at the Land Institute. It is extremely drought-hardy and has strong roots that can penetrate heavy clay soils.
The cup plant, which features yellow flowers on a tall stem, is already being grown in Germany for forage and biofuel production, Murrell said. It develops later than the silflower and also stays green longer. It grows vigorously and produces considerable biomass, which enables it to suppress weeds, she added.
Both plants proved popular with pollinators.