- Author: Jane Callier
- Author: Marc Callier
The full report, Medicinal value of sunflower pollen against bee pathogens, is available online at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-32681-y
This excerpt from the abstract of the report describes the optimism of the research team: “Given consistent effects of sunflower in reducing pathogens, planting sunflowers in agricultural ecosystems and native habitat may provide a simple solution to reduce disease and improve the health of economically and ecologically important pollinators.”
We can all help by planting sunflowers, but be sure to plant open-pollinated varieties that produce pollen. Bees need pollen for protein and to feed their larvae. There are a lot of varieties of sunflowers that lack pollen, popular among people who don't want to clean up the pollen mess from cut flowers and for the allergy-prone. Pollenless sunflowers are bred so only female traits are presented, pollen being a male characteristic in the plant world.
Still, there are many pollen-rich varieties available. If you like the giants, look for old favorites such as Mammoth Greystripe and Black Russian. Lemon Queen is a stand-by and Giant White Seeded produces a massive head with large seeds that you can roast and eat. Sunny yellow, flavorful-seeded Arikara was grown by its namesake native Americans from North Dakota. Henry Wilde is another tall heirloom and has long-lasting blooms with large yellow petals.
Autumn Beauty serves as a late summer-fall bloomer when many other flowers are spent and has lovely multicolored hues. Chocolate Cherry is a deep, brownish red and Evening Sun is a burnt orange. Sonja is a branching plant and the blooms have dark centers and deep yellow, almost orange petals. Maximillian is a perennial with lots of blooms and Domino's large blooms last for more than a month. Velvet Queen and Red Sun are dark beauties.
I note, with some pleasure, that a group of Master Gardeners will distribute sunflower seeds at this year's AgDay celebration on March 8 at the Napa Valley Expo.