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!).