Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project: join us!

by June


Photo: From the Greek phos or phot. Light; radiant energy.

-tropic: From the Greek tropos. Turning in response to a stimulus.

When practicing our Greek roots, one of the easiest ways is to find good examples (especially ones with actual roots in the garden). The best example we know of phototropic is the sunflower. We grow them as tall as we can with as many blooms. There they stand, living souvenirs of being lost with friends in rows of sunflowers in France or of driving by Lawrence Welk's prairie birthplace, where whole choirs of petal faces turn in unison toward the afternoon sky. Long stretches of the Dakotas go by in my mind -- a beautiful blur of yellow.

We don't grow sunflowers just for the memories, but also for the pleasure of having huge Van Gogh bunches in the house, and this year, for science. We are excited to be participating in the Great Sunflower Project. It's a nationwide science project, but don't let any middle-school frog-dissection flashbacks dissuade you from joining us in the effort. How many science projects do you know that involve a cup of coffee (or jasmine tea) in the garden?

Here's how it works: Plant sunflowers now. Then, when the sunflowers are in bloom, go find a comfy place to sit where you have a good view of a particular blossom. You just sip your morning drink and watch the sunflower watch the sun, and every time a bee visits, you jot down the time. You sit there with your sunflower for a half-hour or five bees, whichever comes first.

It's a beautiful and simple way to help some California scientists who are studying our poor embattled pollinators. As the project organizers point out: Bees are responsible for every third bite of food. Being part of the Great Sunflower Project is the least we can do to return the vital favor they do us. If enough of us (homeschoolers and Girl Scouts and garden clubs and...) get involved, together we will provide important information about where bees are thriving and where they are not. Plus, it's a fun opportunity to learn the difference between a bumble bee and a diadasia or another of the 35,000 species worldwide (if you want to take it that far, and apparently, Fern and Blossom do because they spent the afternoon comparing one bee to another on the project's excellent website).

It is raining here today, and since we cannot turn our own faces toward the sun, we will turn our anticipation toward the August day when the sunflowers will be tracking the light across the sky, and we will be tracking the bees who come for the pollen (and for the phototropic ride, wheeee!).


Bangchik and Kakdah said...

Such a sight, this sunflower, but attempt at germinating them here in Putrajaya Malaysia proved furtile. I wont miss watching sunflowers in friends Blog.

~ bangchik

June said...


I read about your trouble with the sunflower seeds. Heartbreaking! I once had every seed rot in the ground because of too much rain. They are very susceptible to damp. Which is why I am happy they are not yet planted here. Rain, rain, rain all week!

Daphne said...

They sent me some Lemon Queen sunflower seeds this year. Only two are still alive. I'm really hoping they make it. I want to count the bees. I have plenty of Music Box sunflowers that I planted for just me, but I don't think that is one of the varieties that they are counting. I'm rooting for my sunflowers to make it.

June said...

Daphne, The good thing is that they have a list of other natives that we can use. Purple coneflower, for one. We're all bound to have something growing that will work for the count. But I heard Renee's Seeds still has some Lemon Queen... Thanks for stopping by!

ozark summers said...

hello honey bee's
the sunflowers are planted at the end of the chicken run. mulitcolored and the yellow giants ( get 16 feet tall) hopefully I can still see the bees at that height. They are nestled inbetween the periwinkle morning glories.the chickens will express their gratitude for the shade they provide later this summer... and the seeds that drop.. ours are for a multitude of purposes. bird feed the snow bird and cardinals this winter and the bees this summer and just the majesty of how they grow so tall.. I will let you know of any buzzing i see.. love from the ozarks

Stephanie said...

Sunflowers... famous Van Gogh painting... Yes! I love that painting. I love sunflowers too. They make me smile. This bloom is a beauty. I wish you will have more sunflower projects... so that I can see more sunflowers from you blog :-)

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

What a neat project! I can't wait to see photos of your sunflowers - and to sit with my cuppa tea and enjoy!

June said...

Ozark Summers: I love the idea of sunflowers shading the chickens. You always have such good ideas! I'm with you on the majesty and everything else. xoxo

Stephanie: I'm hoping we can do Van Gogh proud this summer -- after the bees have had their shot at the pollen, of course.

Colleen: I'm happy to lend my sunflowers to your tea time. Here's hoping it will inspire more of your incredibly wonderful insights!

Tricia Orchard said...

This sounds fantastic! Next summer!


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