Sunflowers are sometimes seen to be a bit naff. But, it is always hard to look at one and not smile. Big, bold and loved by bees - all gardeners should find a place for them in their gardens.
At the RHS Hampton Court flower show this year, there was a large field of sunflowers as part of an exhibition on growing food. It attracted a lot of bees and a large number of people all taking photos (us included).
Sunflowers are part of the Daisy family (Asteraceae). The central flower disk can be made up of around 1,000 florets or more. They form whorls and curvier spirals that the mathematician Fibonaci would recognise.
The outer edge of the disk florets open first and spiral open towards the centre. All these florets are great news for bees. Rather than wasting energy flying from one flower to the next for a small reward, the sunflower offers a thousand nectar cups all in one convenient place. Yesterday I watched a bee walk in circles round the disk methodically visiting every open floret.
The outer ray florets are there to act as an eye catching advertising hoarding. It looks pretty to us but also tells the bees they are open for business.
The best bar in town
If you live in the US you might be interested in becoming a citizen scientist. All you need to do is grow some sunflowers and count the bees that visit. The project is run by Gretchen LeBuhn, biology professor at San Francisco State University.
50,000 people participated in 2009 helping the professor with research on wild bees using Lemon Queen Sunflowers. Why this flower? Because, as LeBuhn explained: "Sunflowers are the best bar in town for bees. If you're not getting visits to your sunflowers, it really says something about the bee population in your area."
A great source of pollen
It is amazing where these guys will grow. The local squirrel decided to bury some sunflower seeds in our green roof. At first we had no idea what they could be. But, once the flower buds appeared it was pretty obvious.