Sunny Sunflowers

Jul 21, 2010
If you enjoy sunflowers--and the seeds and oil--thank a bee.

Sunflowers, native to the Americas, are spectacular, especially when you encounter a field of them. If you look closely, you'll see honey bees, sunflower bees and bumble bees working the flowers.

It's pollination at work.

To encourage backyard gardeners to grow sunflowers and collect data about the bees that visit them, the Great Sunflower Project provides free seeds and educational information.

You can obtain the Lemon Queen sunflower seeds from the Great Sunflower Project, from a local nursery or from a seed catalog.

Associate professor and biologist Gretchen LeBuhn of the University of California, Santa Barbara, started the project in 2008 as a way to get citizens interested in bee pollination. 

"In 2008, we started this project as a way to gather information about our urban, suburban and rural bee populations," writes LeBuhn, considered "the queen bee" of the Great Sunflower Project. "We wanted to enlist people all over the U.S. and Canada to observe their bees and be citizen scientists. We asked them to plant sunflowers in their gardens so we could standardize study of bee activity and provide more resources for bees. Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and are wildly attactive to bees."

Since 2008, the Great Sunflower Project has expanded its list of plants studied to include bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, coreopsis (tickseed), and purple coneflower.

"It’s time to turn off your television, take off those earphones, shut down that computer, go outside, and rediscover the wonder of nature," LeBuhn says.

Good advice.

That's one small step toward improving bee habitat--and human habitat, too. 

By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

HEADS of sunflowers follow the sun in what scientists call heliotropism. These sunflowers are in a field off Pedrick Road, Dixon, Calif.   (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Sunflower Field

BEE HIVES line a sunflower field along Pedrick Road, Dixon, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bee Hives

HONEY BEE forages on a sunflower head. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey Bee