Sunflower Pollen: For the Bees



Olsen Farm sunflower opening up. Photo by Kristen Tool

Is there anything better than the bright and beautiful, sunny faces of a field of sunflowers? There are many benefits to adding sunflowers to your garden.

Sunflowers, or Helianthus, are native to North America and have been cultivated by Indigenous farmers for thousands of years. Our farm is in Western Massachusetts, on Mohican land. A planting technique we learned from Indigenous growers who stewarded this land before us is to plant sunflowers along with corn, squash and beans. Sunflowers provide support for climbing beans, shade for squash, help to build and loosen the soil, bring in pollinators and help keep birds away from corn by providing sunflower seeds to eat. 

While sunflower seeds can be used to make oil and are a great food source for humans, sunflowers are also greatly beneficial for pollinators as well. Recent studies have shown that pollen from sunflowers can be effective in treating parasites in both native bumble bees, Bombus, as well as European honeybees, Apis mellifera. These parasites and viruses are one of the many factors contributing to bee population decline, along with monoculture, pesticide use, climate change and loss of habitat. 

Pollen is a plant based protein and an essential food for bees. When bees collect pollen from sunflowers it is like they are giving themselves a ‘booster shot’ against parasites, Crithidia bombi in bumblebees and Nosema ceranae in honeybees. 

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