PLANT PROFILE: Helianthus
Bees absolutely love sunflowers. Dozens of happy bees feasted on the many I planted with the help of neighborhood kids in the Memorial Garden bed at Robert Clinkscale Playground and Community Garden on West 146th Street in Harlem. We grew Mammoth, Garisol Radiance Hybrid, Garisol Sunshine, Italian White and Tithonia rotundifolia. Various species of bees just went crazy. Bzzzzzzzz, yummmhumm, bzzzzmmmmmm! Sometimes bees would become so dusted in pollen that they looked like soft brownish-yellow blobs hovering across the flowers. Some bees even followed the cut flowers I took out of the garden.
I tell children and adults who are unreasonably afraid of bees that bees are interested in pollen and nectar, not in humans, regardless of how attractive or nice smelling we may be. So unless you are doing something totally stupid like flailing and aggressively disturbing their feeding or messing with their hive, bees usually will leave you alone.
Be calm and let the bees be.
Sunflowers or Helianthus are in the family Asteraceae or Compositae. The family includes, aster, daisy, echinachea, coreopsis and dahlia with each flower head containing numerous tiny flowers. Each flower advertises that it already been visited by a bee by loosing its brilliance.
A brown or brownish flower lets a bee will know to focus its adoring eyes elsewhere and pollinate other flowers. Each tiny flower in this round mass of pollen-covered goodness will produce a sunflower seed. If allowed to fall to the ground, that seed may grow into a sturdy plant with flowers to feed a generation of bees in the following year.
No flower represents summer better than sunflowers with their cheerful brilliant yellow and contrasting brown faces, following the direction of the sun as the day progresses. Vincent van Gogh recognized the beauty of sunflowers and do did Frida Kahlo. Sunflowers are native to North America and a few are native to South America, like Tithonia. They are easy to grow from seed which make growing them a big hit with children. Sunflowers are not fussy about soil conditions but would do best in deep well-draining soil and they need at least six hours of sunlight to flower well.
Butterflies like Tithonia or Mexican sunflowers almost as much as the bees do. I often notice butterflies and bees feasting on the same flower head.
Tithonia is very attractive and adds a bright orange color to the garden. Plants are multi-branching and flower prolifically until fall.
Italian White is really a creamy yellow sunflower. The plant is about 5' tall and is a multi-branch form, producing many elegant flowers.
Email me at veronicatsanddogwood to send a self-addressed and stamped envelope if you would like me to send you some in the mail.
Some sunflowers like Mammoth grow to be more than ten feet tall. I like the shorter ones better as they are more in proportion to the size of the bed. Next year I will probably plant Tithonia, Italian White and shorter varieties of multi stem sunflowers.
Sunflower seeds make a healthy snack. They are also used to make oils. Since bees play such a huge role in keeping humans fed and sunflowers keep bees, birds, squirrels and humans fed, spread the happiness around by planting at least one variety of sunflowers somewhere every year.
Thank you bees! You are very welcome too. The pleasure is all yours and mine.