Friday, January 14, 2011

The Great Sunflower Project

With the ground covered in snow and large flocks of snow geese passing low overhead, it’s a good time to start thinking about spring-time flower planting. The Great Sunflower Project is an enjoyable outdoor pastime that gathers important pollinator population data. The project provides an opportunity for anyone in North America to participate as a citizen scientist. The purpose of the Great Sunflower Project is to locate and count honey bees and native pollinators across the United States and Canada. The project, lead by conservation biologist Dr. Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University, is measuring the bee populations across urban, suburban, and rural areas. The study is also intended to determine the condition of native pollinators, which have not been measured on a large scale. The study seeks to find out how changing pollinator numbers affects garden plants, crops, and wild plants.

The method is simple: everyone participating plants the same variety of sunflower, Lemon Queen; then they count the bees that come to the flowers of a single plant in 15 minutes. Sunflower garden locations are mapped, and bee sightings are recorded. Lemon Queen is highly attractive to honey bees as well as other bees and pollinators. I have observed honey bees, blue orchard bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, leaf cutting bees, and numerous other pollinators on my sunflowers. Today’s photo from late September shows a honey bee collecting sunflower pollen. The project currently has 90 thousand people participating across North America. The value of the data collected increases with the number of people participating. On average, the citizen scientists are reporting seeing a bee every 2.6 minutes. Twenty percent of the sunflower gardens have no bees at all. This negative result is an important finding. You may participate in this worthwhile study of pollinators by logging onto Buy a package of Lemon Queen sunflowers, and then wait for the snow to melt, the snow geese to migrate back to the arctic, and the soil to warm.


  1. what a great project - thanks for posting! you just gave me another reason to plant sunflowers.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this and thanks for participating. We're gearing up for another season of observations. Now you can buy your sunflower seeds through Sheppard's Garden Seeds and a portion of the proceeds will go to keep the Great Sunflower Project funded. Check out the web site for the coupon