People visiting a St. Augustine beach

Maia McGuire was leading middle-schoolers on a local beach clean-up when she noticed a cluster of deflated balloons on the sand. It’s not unusual to find balloons on the beach, McGuire said, but these were different: Each balloon was printed with the name of a nursing home in Texas.

“Those balloons were probably the weirdest thing I’ve found on one of our beaches,” McGuire said. However, this discovery made it clear that, while beach clean-ups are often done by locals, keeping beaches clean is everyone’s responsibility, she said. That’s because, in the environment, trash travels, and one person’s trash can easily become another person’s clean-up hundreds of miles away.

McGuire works in St. Johns and Flagler counties as a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Sea Grant agent. Part of her job is to help the community keep its beaches and oceans clean. You can do your part this summer by following these five tips.

  1. Don’t bring single-use plastic items, such as plastic shopping bags, disposable straws, plastic water bottles, zipper-seal bags or Styrofoam dishware, to the beach. “Many animals will mistake plastic items (and balloons) for food and will eat them,” said McGuire. “This can result in starvation because the animals’ stomachs become full of plastic. Eating plastic may also cause toxic chemicals to leach into the animals’ bodies.”

Furthermore, “since plastic never degrades, it is important that we try to reduce the amount of plastic that we discard,” she said.

  1. Don’t let helium-filled balloons “go free.” When the helium leaks out, the balloons might end up in the ocean. “In addition to eating balloons, animals can become entangled in the ribbon or string that is tied to the balloon,” McGuire said. This ribbon or string can injure an animal and even take off a limb. Entangled animals may also drown, she said.
  2. Pick up after your pet. Pick up your pet’s waste and throw it away in a trash can, McGuire said. Pet waste adds viruses and bacteria to the environment—and who wants to swim in that?
  3. The beach is not a big ash tray. Dispose of cigarette butts properly. Nicotine from cigarettes can get into the environment, said McGuire.
  4. Throw your trash away in a designated trash can. Do the same for any other trash you come across on the beach. “The more trash we can remove from the environment, the better,” McGuire said. “Often, trash can leach chemicals into the sand or sediment. Many of these chemicals can trigger harmful environmental impacts, such as algal blooms or bacterial growth, which may cause beach closures.”

However, always use common sense when picking up trash on the beach, she said. Don’t pick up anything that may injure you (such as sharp objects) or make you sick.

Finally, McGuire said, bear in mind that keeping beaches clean starts in your neighborhood, even if that neighborhood is nowhere near the beach. If balloons from Texas can end up on the eastern coast of Florida, who knows where your trash might wash up?

“People often assume that trash on the beach either was left there by beachgoers or came from boats,” she said. “What they may not realize is that trash that is on the ground can end up blowing or washing into storm water systems, where it can be transported into coastal waters.”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Source: Maia McGuire, 904-209-0430 or 386-437-7464,

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Zika Challenge

vector cropped

Jim Davis is studying hard for his public health pest control license exam. In the past, getting this license wouldn’t be a usual part of his job. But with the recent public concern about the mosquito-borne Zika virus, expertise in mosquito control could soon be the norm for many University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension faculty like Davis.

Davis and several others have already signed up for the UF/IFAS Extension Zika Challenge, a new program that helps Extension faculty become public health pest control license (PHPC) holders. Faculty will use this training and other outreach strategies to educate their communities about mosquito control.

Ken Gioeli, a UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County agent, wondered if other Extension agents would benefit from this training after he got his own PHPC license. The Zika Challenge grew out of discussions Gioeli had with Anita Neal, director for UF/IFAS Extension’s south district, and Roxanne Connelly, a professor and Extension specialist at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach, Florida.  Gioeli and Connelly designed the program.

Connelly wanted to make sure that the Zika Challenge would in fact challenge UF/IFAS Extension faculty. To that end, in addition to passing the licensing exam, faculty must actively engage their communities and local pest control professionals in the fight against mosquitoes.

“A lot of people think mosquito control equals spraying, but we want people to understand that there is a lot more to it than that,” Connelly said. “This is a community effort. If you assume other people will prevent mosquitoes from breeding, you might end up being the cause of the problem.”

Connelly emphasized that while the Zika virus has not been detected in Florida mosquitoes, reducing populations of mosquito species associated with the virus is an important preventative measure.

Anita Neal, director for UF/IFAS Extension’s south district, was an early advocate for the Zika Challenge. “We believe that UF/IFAS Extension should be poised and ready to assist the community with potential health threats,” said Neal. “The Zika Challenge is one method to inform the public about what it can do to lessen potential mosquito problems.”

Saqib Mukhtar, associate dean for Extension and agricultural programs leader, also expressed his support. “This innovative educational program is one more effective approach toward keeping Floridians informed and safe,” he said.

The Zika Challenge is somewhat unique in that it is not aimed at UF/IFAS Extension faculty who specialize in a particular area. All faculty, whether they focus on youth development, citrus or livestock, need to spread the word about mosquitoes to their clientele, Gioeli said.

Once they are licensed, faculty can tailor their outreach efforts to their clients’ needs. For example, William Lester, a UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County agent, is planning to show series of videos about mosquito control during his gardening classes.

Faculty can also use social media to help combat the misinformation about mosquitoes often found online, Gioeli explained. “We want our clientele to be skeptical and cautious about what they see online and make sure that it is backed by UF/IFAS research,” he said.

UF/IFAS Extension county offices are offering licensing exams free of charge. Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office for dates and times the exam will be offered. The deadline for UF/IFAS Extension faculty to sign up for the Zika Challenge is July 1. For more information, please go to

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Roxanne Connelly, 772-778-7200 ext. 172,

Jim Davis, 352-569-6867,

Ken Gioeli, 772-462-1660,

William Lester, 352-754-4433,

Anita Neal, 561-922-1280,

Saqib Mukhtar, 352-392-1761,

UF/IFAS Photo by James Newman


Nine-year-old Rose Ducanis did not want to go to her first 4-H club meeting. “My mom pretty much had to drag me there,” Ducanis said. “I didn’t want to go because I just had no idea what to expect.” However, during that first meeting, she realized that UF/IFAS Extension Florida 4-H wasn’t just a bunch of kids listening to adults and eating snacks — it was a chance for her to find her voice as a leader.

“As I got more involved in 4-H, I realized that I had good things to say and that people would actually listen to them. You don’t often get that opportunity as a kid,” Ducanis said. Though Ducanis grew up in Davie, Florida, a suburban community, she liked how 4-H’s focus on leadership could apply to youth from any community.

Now, after nearly a decade as a 4-H member, Ducanis is the 2015–2016 Florida 4-H state council president. She has also been chosen as governor for this year’s 4-H Legislature, the main civic education event for Florida 4-H members between the ages of 13 and 18. From June 27 to July 1, youth from around the state will be at the Florida State Capitol, where they will learn to play the part of lawmakers, lobbyists and media correspondents in a mock legislative setting.

Robert Lommerse, the Florida 4-H state council vice president, said he can’t wait for 4-H Legislature to begin. Lommerse is from Seminole County, and this year he will play a senator. “I am counting down the days,” he said. “I love debating and presenting a bill on the House or Senate floor.”

Ducanis will oversee the event, establishing a political platform for her party, vetoing and passing bills, making speeches and holding press conferences. “I’ve been watching the governors carry out their duties for the past four years, and I’m excited to have my turn to take a crack at it,” she said.

4-H Legislature is an opportunity for young people to practice public speaking and debate, said Ducanis. The 4-H principle of “learning by doing,” has helped her become a confident communicator. “As the 4-H State Council president, I am an ambassador for the organization, and I have to formulate my own thoughts and opinions in a way that other people will understand,” she said.

Ducanis admires public figures such as Adam Putnam, Florida commissioner of agriculture, and Jennifer Sullivan, the youngest woman elected to the Florida Legislature, as examples of how 4-H grows leadership. Both Putnam and Sullivan are 4-H alumnae, and, like Ducanis, Putnam was a 4-H State Council president.

Ducanis credits 4-H with helping her discover her passion for representing and connecting people and organizations. “What I love about 4-H is how it helps accentuate people’s strengths and interests in a setting where it is okay to fail and get help from others,” she said.

She plans to expand on her leadership and communication skills this fall when she attends Palm Beach Atlantic University to study marketing and communications.

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Rose Ducanis, 954-512-3812,

Robert Lommerse,

Shaumond Scott, 352-294-2911,

Plants in a lab

The work of a plant pathologist, or plant doctor, is much like that of a regular doctor—you have sick patients who need treatment, said Monica Elliott, professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, who has organized a free plant pathology workshop for middle and high school teachers.

However, there is one crucial difference between curing plants and curing people that should put the more squeamish of the attendees at ease, Elliott said. “There’s no blood!”

Over the next few weeks, educators will spend the day at one of several UF/IFAS Research and Education Centers across the state learning the basics of plant pathology and the role it plays in growing healthy crops. The workshops are designed to give teachers material they can bring back to their classrooms.

This round of workshops is the second time educators have been invited to UF/IFAS Research and Education Centers to discover new approaches to teaching science. Last year, attendees learned about soil science in honor of the United Nation’s naming 2015 the year of soils, said Elliott.

During the workshop, UF/IFAS researchers will introduce participants to the organisms that cause disease, and how plant diseases are spread and controlled. Attendees will also learn to make inexpensive smartphone microscopes and how to intentionally infect a plant with a bacteria. They can then take this plant home and observe how the disease progresses.

Elliott hopes participants will gain a greater appreciation for how humans have created plant varieties that suit human needs, whether it be a tomatoes that are resistant to disease or seedless watermelon.

The workshop will also emphasize how much we rely on plants for food, shelter and clothing. Plant pathologists help make sure that we still have these resources in the future, Elliott said. “We’ve been dealing with plant disease for thousands of years, and we’re still dealing with them. That’s why we need students going into science.”

Workshop locations, dates and times:

  • UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy: June 23, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Davie: June 28, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred: July 14, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

  • UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center, Apopka: July 18, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, Balm: July 27, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center, Jay: July 28, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Please contact UF/IFAS South West Florida Research and Education Center and UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center directly for dates and times. For workshop materials, please go to

UF/IFAS Photo by Marisol Amador

Carrie Harmon in the lab

The University of Florida and 12 other prominent research institutions in the United States joined the SoAR Foundation today in calling for a surge in federal support of food and agricultural science. “Retaking the Field,” the report released by this coalition, highlights recent scientific innovations and illustrates how U.S. agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors.

“Agricultural and food science research has had a profound impact on our country’s population and quality of life,” said Jackie Burns, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences dean for research and director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station. “Continued investment in university research resources will ensure that today’s investments translate into innovation and food security for future generations. The SoAR Foundation publication highlights success stories in agricultural research that will improve the future lives of our citizens.”

“Retaking the Field” examines the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this sector was responsible for nearly one in 10 jobs in 2014 and contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. Even though every public dollar invested in agricultural research provides $20 in economic returns, the federal budget for agricultural research has remained flat for decades. Today, the U.S. trails China in both agricultural production and public research funding.

The report features Carrie Harmon, director of the Florida Plant Diagnostic Center at UF/IFAS. “The Florida Plant Diagnostic Center is one of the public faces of the University of Florida, assisting growers, pest management professionals, homeowners and others with plant disease issues,” Harmon said. “We give research-based management recommendations for the diseases we diagnose, so we are an immediate conduit to the taxpayers for UF/IFAS agricultural research.”

In addition to helping others manage plant diseases, the Center helps detect diseases before they can spread and cause bigger problems. “Plant diseases are a bit like cancer — if you detect the cancer very early on, you have a much better chance of removing all of it and living a full life,” Harmon said. “Only by coupling accurate and early detection with research-based management do we get healthy crops, a healthy environment, healthy people, and a healthy bottom line.”

Harmon and a few other featured researchers will be in Washington, D.C., June 22 and 23 to discuss their research with government policymakers and the media.

“Researchers are discovering incredible breakthroughs, helping farmers produce more food using fewer resources, and keeping our meals safe and nutritious,” said Thomas Grumbly, president of the SoAR Foundation. “However, the science behind agriculture and food production is starved of federal support at a time of unprecedented challenges. A new surge in public funding is essential if our agricultural system is going to meet the needs of American families in an increasingly competitive global market.”

Farming has never been an easy endeavor, and today’s challenges to agricultural production are daunting. The historic California drought continues and U.S. production is also threatened by new pests and pathogens, like the 2015 Avian Influenza outbreak that led to the culling of 48 million birds in 15 states and $2.6 billion in economic damages.

“Every year, the director of national intelligence testifies before Congress that our national security is threatened by hunger in unstable regions,” said Tom Grumbly. “As the number of people on our planet continues to grow, we must produce more food. This cannot be done with yesterday’s science. We need a larger infusion of cutting-edge technologies.”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Jackie Burns, 352-392-1784,

Carrie Harmon, 352-392-1795,

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Produce displayed at a farmers market.

When it comes to defining local food, things are hardly black and white. Instead, consumers perceive degrees of localness rather than firm local and non-local divisions, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers have found.

Now researchers are using these findings to help Florida farmers effectively market their produce to Floridians.

“There is no official definition of local food in the way that there is for USDA organic food, for example,” said Joy Rumble, professor of agricultural education and communication at UF/IFAS. As a result, “local” has become a relative term. A consumer will say that a tomato grown in the county where she lives is more local than one grown in another part of the state, said Rumble. However, she will also say that a tomato grown anywhere in Florida is more local than one grown in Mexico.

Rumble knew her findings could help producers better reach their customers. She decided that in-person training was the best way to deliver these insights. “Agricultural professionals trust peers and rely on face-to-face interactions in their business and life in general,” Rumble said.

UF/IFAS Extension agents and commodity organizations can use Rumble’s “Promoting Specialty Crops as Local” curriculum to teach specialty crop farmers why people choose local foods and how farmers can use this information to market their Florida-grown products.

The curriculum contains six modules than can be taught individually or as a whole. When participants finish the curriculum, they walk away with a complete promotional plan for their specialty crops.

Specialty crops, which include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and landscape plants, are a 5.4 billion dollar industry in Florida, Rumble said, but competing with international markets can be challenging. Florida farmers can counter these pressures by capitalizing on consumers’ positive feelings toward local foods and by telling a compelling story about their farms.

“I hope the impact of the curriculum will be that crop producers across the state will be able to better promote their farms and products through the communication strategies suggested in the curriculum,” Rumble said. “That will benefit Florida agriculture as a whole and serve to connect Florida consumers with the industry.”

Another goal of the curriculum is to help producers better define what they mean by local food. “As an industry, we have to be really careful with the term — the more explicit we can be, the better. You need to be transparent about you product,” Rumble said.

The curriculum was funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Florida Specialty Crop Block Grant program, and was a collaboration of the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education with the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation.

For a digital version of the curriculum, go to Agricultural producers interested in taking the course should contact their local UF/IFAS Extension office.


Water-wise awards

Water-wise award prize

Most people who look at Scott and Lisa Freeman’s yard probably assume it takes a lot of water to keep it so green and lush. They couldn’t be more wrong — this sub-tropical oasis requires nearly no water at all, thanks to its Florida-Friendly Landscaping.

The Freeman’s yard won the 2015 Water-Wise Award for single-family residence in Pinellas County. This annual award is co-sponsored by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and Tampa Bay Water.

This award goes to landscapes in the Tampa Bay area that use little water but are pleasing to the eye. UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County staff will spend this coming summer visiting these landscapes to judge their water-wise design.

“The purpose of this program is primarily to promote water conservation and Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles,” said Brian Niemann, a UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County agent and one of the landscape judges.

However, the program isn’t just aimed at residents. “The awards are presented in front of elected officials in the Tampa Bay Area, and this keeps the issue of water conservation and Florida-Friendly Landscaping in their minds,” Niemann added.

Water-wise landscapes are particularly important in densely developed regions such as the Tampa Bay area. More development means more landscaping, which, in turn, means more water usage, Niemann said. The program focuses on Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough counties, but it could easily expand to other areas of Florida as well, he added.

Awards are given in several categories, including single-family homes, condos and apartments, commercial real estate, government property and schools, Niemann said. He and his colleagues assess basic landscape design — such as the use of mulch and grouping plants with similar watering needs — as well as how efficiently water is used in the landscape.

Scott Freeman has been designing and establishing his water-wise yard over the course of the last decade. Before that, his idea of a perfect yard was one with a big green lawn, but he eventually got tired of getting on his riding mower every week, and paying for fertilizer and irrigation.  He decided to transform his yard into raised beds filled with native plants and connected by gravel walkways.

“I only use our sprinkler system during extreme drought — maybe six to eight times a year,” he said. “Our water bill is only 26 dollars a month.”

He likes both the savings and the way the yard looks. “The thing I’m most proud of about my yard is that it is so beautiful to look at and yet requires hardly any water,” he said. “I would absolutely recommend Florida- Friendly Landscaping to other people — sell the lawn mower!”

Residents can enter their landscapes until June 30 by going to Awards are announced in the fall.

Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Water

Hydrilla, an invasive plant in Florida

When Kenny Coogan, a seventh-grade science teacher at Orange Grove Middle Magnet School, took an airboat ride on Lake Tohopekaliga and saw the devastation caused by invasive plants, he knew he had to bring this information back to his classroom.

“After seeing the negative effects of the plants first-hand, I knew I needed to share this experience and ways to mitigate the invasive species with my students,” Coogan said.

Local middle and high school science teachers like Coogan are getting help in spreading the word about invasive plants, thanks to a partnership between the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Each June the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants invites 24 teachers from across the state to a five-day Plant Camp where they learn about invasive plants and how they can bring this knowledge and awareness into the classroom.

When it comes to challenges facing endangered species, invasive species are second only to habitat loss, said Bill Haller, professor and UF/IFAS CAIP program director. Controlling invasive plants protects native plants and animals, and it’s a constant battle—which is why the next generation needs to get involved, he said.

Teachers are the best way to reach the greatest number of these youth, said Katie Walters, education initiative coordinator at UF/IFAS CAIP. The camp is aimed at educators who teach grades four through 12.

Back in 2005, the UF/IFAS Florida Invasive Plant Education Initiative began working with teachers to develop an invasive plant curriculum that included more than 100 different lesson plans and activities. However, “just developing that curriculum wasn’t enough, and the teachers requested a workshop,” said Walters.

The Plant Camp, which started in 2007, answered this need for more hands-on training. Teachers come away from the camp with a lot of material and tools to make science fun for their students, Walters said. She hopes this will ultimately make the next generation more aware of invasive plants.

The camp includes presentations by UF/IFAS faculty and FWC personnel, as well as activities such as plant identification and invasive plant removal. During each activity, teachers learn how they can translate what they are learning into their lesson plans.

Attendees also take fieldtrips to sites such as Paynes Prairie, where Chinese tallow and Japanese climbing fern have invaded. “We want to give them an idea of the scale of what an invasive problem looks like,” said Walters, and seeing how a plant can invade a landscape makes a big impact.

Tracy Jenner, science teacher at Yankeetown School, said what she learned at Plant Camp has helped her better engage her students, and they now understand that taking care of the environment is their responsibility. “The other exciting thing for me was meeting so many people that have led me to take my students on a variety of field trips that I would never have done,” Jenner said.

Applicants must submit a personal statement and letter of recommendation. Applications become available online and in paper form in January of each year. A Plant Camp diploma counts toward professional development points, which teachers need to maintain their teaching certification, Walters said.

Teachers can learn more about the UF/IFAS Plant Camp at

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Katie Walters, 352-273-3665,

Bill Haller, 352-392-9613,

UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones

Golf ball in hole at a golf course

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty will showcase the latest turfgrass research June 15 at the twenty-second annual UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Turfgrass Field Day and Expo.

The UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center will host the field day and expo, which is co-sponsored by the Gulf Coast Golf Course Superintendents Association, said J. Bryan Unruh, professor of environmental horticulture and associate center director of UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center.

Green industry representatives, UF/IFAS Master Gardeners and anyone interested in turfgrass are invited. In past years, the field day and expo has drawn around 300 people from Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, Unruh said.

The event starts at 7:45 a. m. and will feature 25 to 30 representatives from various parts of the green industry, including chemical suppliers and equipment vendors. Throughout the day, “We open up the facility and show all the research we have going on,” Unruh said.

This year researchers will focus on the tools they use to test the effects of temperature on turfgrass. “We’re doing a bunch of science-based work on the influence of ambient and soil temperature on rooting,” Unruh said. “We’ve got some contraptions that allow us to manipulate environments,” and let researchers see how the turf responds to these changes.

UF/IFAS WFREC researchers will also discuss how the color of sand used on golf courses may protect turf from colder winter temperatures. They are currently experimenting with white, black and green sand, Unruh said.

During the morning, attendees can tour the facility and learn about the science that goes into maintaining golf courses, athletic turf and sod production. UF/IFAS faculty from WFREC and around the state will also present on topics such as pests, disease, weeds and nutrient management. In the afternoon, UF/IFAS Extension faculty will present continuing education classes on pesticide safety and handling.

“I think it has been not only great for our area but for turf management throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi,” Jamey Davis, superintendent at the Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club, said of the event.

“The information presented on current products and items on the horizon has always been imperative,” Davis said. “It is an event I personally look forward to, and one I know industry professionals throughout the region do as well. Furthermore, the work Dr. Unruh is doing with Florida BMPs will be invaluable for the turf management industry in the states mentioned above.”

At the end of the day, Unruh hopes attendees will also see that UF/IFAS is a resource for the turf industry.

“Our primary goal is to show that there is a lot of research that goes on behind the green industry and management recommendations,” Unruh said. Many consumers don’t realize that UF/IFAS recommendations are the product of scientific findings, so events like these allow people to see how the science translates into best practices, he said.

Sign up for the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Turfgrass Field Day and Expo at

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Source: J. Bryan Unruh, 850-983-7105,

UF/IFAS Photo by Marisol Amador

A butterfly pollinating a flower

If you’re browsing plants in a nursery or home-improvement store, labels such as pollinator friendly will likely influence which plants you end up buying, according to a recent study by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.

Postdoctoral research associate Alicia Rihn and assistant professor Hayk Khachatryan co-authored the study, which appears in the journal HortScience. Both Rihn and Khachatryan are researchers in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, Florida.

Rihn and Khachatryan wanted to know how labels such as “pollinator friendly” would influence consumer attitudes. “We wondered, which pollinator insect related labels are the most effective and which do consumers prefer?” Khachatryan said. “At the time of our study, these topics had not been addressed.”

The researchers surveyed more than 900 people from across the country who recently bought plants and measured their responses to several pollinator labels.

“When developing these test labels, we wanted a variety of options — some that were pollinator specific (for example, bee attractive, bee friendly, butterfly friendly, etcetera) and others that were more general (for example, pollinator attractive, pollinator friendly, plants for pollinators),” Khachatryan explained. “By covering both levels, we could determine if people were interested in helping pollinators (in general) or just specific types of pollinators (bees versus butterflies).”

The researchers found that people preferred general labels over specific ones, “pollinator friendly” being the most preferred overall.

Given recent media coverage of bee health and population decline, the authors were anticipating more interest in bee-related promotions. However, consumers preferred “pollinator friendly” labels over more specific bee-related labels.

“These results indicate that people want to benefit and attract all types of pollinators, not just insect pollinators,” Khachatryan said. For example, hummingbirds are pollinators but not insects.  A catch-all phrase such as “pollinator friendly” lets retailers promote a plant in terms of its total — rather than specific — benefits to pollinators, he added.

The study suggests that pollinator promotions could help plant nurseries and retailers build consumer satisfaction and trust.

“Providing consumers with a product they support and want to purchase in order to do their part and help the pollinators is one way that companies can better serve their clientele,” Khachatryan noted. “In turn, this has potential to increase the availability of pollinator friendly plants in the landscape and assist in improving pollinator health.”

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones