Sunflowers in bloom are a sure sign of summer. The sunflowers are a member of the important family of bee plants, the composites. The composite family, also called the sunflower family, is among the largest families of flowering plants. Worldwide, composites make up one tenth of the 250 thousand flowering plants. They exist on all continents except Antarctica. We recognize many of the composites: coneflower, dandelion, coreopsis, marigold, asters, and zinnias. Many composites are placed in landscape plantings and in parks for the beauty of their flowers. Composites are producers of nectar and pollen, making them excellent bee plants.
In the photo, you can see sunflowers growing near our bee yard at Whitton Flowers and Produce in Whitton, Arkansas. Jill and Keith Forrester grow cut flowers and fresh produce on their family farm. At this time of the year, Jill’s sunflowers are prized for their bright appearance in flower arrangements. Once the sunflower has been pollinated by a honey bee, the plant produces the distinctive black seeds in the center of the flower. The sunflowers are of particular value to the honey bee for their pollen. Many of the sunflowers, however, produce so much pollen that they were not in demand for table arrangements. The flowers simply spill their abundant pollen onto the table cloth. Horticulturists have developed sunflowers in recent years specifically for floral use that produce little pollen. One variety of sunflowers often grown for bird seed, the black oil sunflower, is not favored by the honey bee. There are many other varieties of sunflower which are very attractive to honey bees and native pollinators. Visit the Forresters’ web site at http://whittonfarms.com/.