Sunflowers may seem like the ideal flower for bees with their large flower heads that look so impressive.
But do sunflowers really attract bees?
And what benefit do the sunflowers offer bees and beekeepers?
Contrary to what many people think, the answer might surprise you!
Are Bees Attracted To Sunflowers?
Bees are attracted to sunflowers. However, these flowers do not provide everything the bee colony needs. Sunflowers are a rich pollen source but do not offer much nectar. Therefore, after the pollination season, bees pastured on sunflowers will need supplemental nectar feeding or relocation to a nectar-rich source.
The large flower heads on sunflowers may seem like a bee buffet, but you might be surprised to learn that sunflowers have limited benefits for bees.
In fact, the flower benefits more from the bees’ activity than what the bees get out of the exchange.
But if the bees don’t profit so much from sunflowers, why are they attracted to them?
Why Do Bees Like Sunflowers?
Bees like sunflowers because they offer a rich pollen source for the colony. The pollen produced by sunflowers is not particularly protein-rich. Still, the advantage is that the flower makes the pollen in abundance.
This pollen bounty makes for an easy protein source for the bee colony. However, the main issue with sunflowers is that they do not produce much nectar. And if the season is dry, they may produce no nectar at all.
Pollen provides the protein bees need to feed young bee larvae in the colony, but the other component of a bee’s diet, nectar, produces the sugars and carbohydrates the worker bees need for energy.
The Usefulness Of Sunflowers For Bees
If sunflowers do not produce much nectar, what use do they have for a bee colony? The primary use is the abundant protein source they offer. In addition, bees use the pollen to produce bee bread, which they feed to the developing larvae in the colony.
However, bees also need energy! This is provided by nectar, which the bees will forage in flowers other than sunflowers.
Don’t base your bee garden only on sunflowers! Instead, go for some nectar-rich flowering plants like hibiscus, cornflowers, or citrus trees… Bee balm is another of my favorites! As the name suggests, it’s a big attraction for honey bees!
If you’re looking for a variety of nectar-providing flowers for your bee garden, try this Honey Bee habitat kit. (Amazon)
Do Sunflowers Help Bees?
Sunflowers help bees by providing a plentiful, easily accessible pollen source. This is supported by the vast flower heads on the sunflowers that make it easy for the bees to collect large quantities of pollen to return to the colony.
The pollen produced by the sunflowers has been shown to benefit bees and bumblebees by strengthening their immune systems, creating stronger colonies that are more resistant to disease.
The quality of the pollen produced by sunflowers is lower in protein value than many other flowering plants or crops. Still, the abundance is what benefits the bees.
The advantage for gardeners is that sunflowers are incredibly easy to grow. They develop really fast, and they’re heat and pest tolerant.
However, not all sunflower strains are beneficial for bees!
As a beekeeper, you may need to take additional steps to achieve good pollination ratios on certain sunflower crops.
Do Sunflowers Need Bees?
Sunflowers need bees to be pollinated and to produce more seeds, but this type of flower can also self-pollinate to a certain extent.
Sunflowers in the wild generally need bees for pollination. In addition, bees provide cross-pollination for wild sunflowers, which is vital to increasing the genetic diversity and health of the wildflower populations.
Commercial sunflower crops need bees to increase the crop yield and maximize profits. In addition, crop sunflowers can self-pollinate because of the vast numbers planted in each field, and the farmers do not want cross-pollination with wild sunflower strains.
Beekeepers are contracted to put colonies of bees on sunflower fields to increase the pollination levels of the flowers, which increases the number of seeds each flower head produces.
The easy access to pollen means the bees will only forage in the sunflower field, reducing the risk of cross-pollination with wild sunflower species.
Placing bee colonies on sunflower fields has been shown to increase the crop yield by between 60% and 95%, which is a significant profit increase for the farmers.
Of course, the low nectar production of sunflowers, particularly in dry spells, means that beekeepers may need to supplement nectar by feeding or providing nearby nectar-rich sources.
Farmers who work with beekeepers often plant nectar-rich crops near the sunflower fields to give the bees a balanced diet.
Where this is impossible, colonies often come off the fields in a stressed state. They need to be relocated to an area rich in energy-giving food to provide bees time to recover from the high workloads.
Do Bees Pollinate Sunflowers?
Yes, the service that bees offer sunflowers is pollination. The high activity of the bees means that a more significant number of the florets on the sunflower become pollinated.
Each floret that becomes pollinated turns into a sunflower seed, which can be harvested and turned into various useful products.
What Are The Best Sunflowers For Bees?
The best sunflower species that also produce enough nectar to be helpful to bees are the Helianthus annuus or common sunflower and the Helianthus debilis or cucumber leaf sunflower. The Helianthus annuus has a wide variety of sizes and colors, making it a good choice for your garden.
As a beekeeper, sunflowers are a great addition to your garden to provide a rich pollen source for your bees. Nonetheless, not all varieties offer good bee resources, so be picky about what you plant!
Sunflowers produce flowers throughout summer and into early autumn, with a flowering period of 65 to 85 days.
The plants produce flowers about 30-days after planting. In my experience, succession planting every two weeks provides a constant supply of sunflowers throughout the summer to build up your bee colony strength for the winter.
I’ve found that a strong colony going into winter is strong coming out of winter, providing you give it the proper care. Likewise, healthy colonies coming out of the cold season mean more productivity in summer, producing good honey a few weeks into spring.
Do All Sunflowers Attract Bees?
Surprisingly, not all sunflowers attract bees, particularly commercial crossbred strains of sunflower produced for their hybrid seeds. These sunflowers often have so little nectar that they do not attract bees in sufficient numbers to provide a good pollination ratio.
On commercial fields where these sunflower strains are grown, the only way to get the desired pollination is to increase the number of bee colonies on the field and eliminate other plants in the area that may attract the bees away from the crop.
This tactic forces the bees to use the resources in the sunflower field. It increases the bee activity on the flowers, improving the pollination rate.
Some sunflower strains are grown purely for the decorative industry.
They produce no pollen at all!
Do Pollenless Sunflowers Attract Bees?
Pollenless sunflowers are sterile flowers with only female reproductive organs, which means the male pollen-generating organs are absent. These flowers are produced for display purposes as cut flowers, so the large flowers do not deposit a mess of pollen around the display.
These flowers cannot be fertilized to produce seed and produce no pollen or nectar to attract the bees. As a result, bees will ignore these flowers in favor of other flower species.
Given that these flowers also produce little nectar at the best of times, bees will bypass these sunflower strains in favor of other flowering plants that offer the resources they need.
Pollenless varieties carry some names as decorative as the market they are intended for, such as Buttercream, Double Dandy, Firecracker, Moonshadow, and Shamrock Shake.
Be careful what you choose if your aim is to help bees… For example, if you are planting sunflowers for honey bees, ensure you don’t select a pollenless variety since they will not be advantageous.
What Kind Of Bees Like Sunflowers?
Sunflowers attract several pollinators other than honey bees. Native wild bees will use the bounty provided by sunflowers, as will species of flies and certain wasp species.
Certain birds are also attracted to the sunflowers. They are active pollinators. But honey bees are far more active and effective at pollination due to their superior numbers.
Do Bumble Bees Like Sunflowers?
Bumble bees are another type of bee that enjoy the resources offered by sunflowers. There are many different bumble bee species, and they’re mostly solitary bees.
So, while bumble bees are attracted to the sunflowers, they do not arrive in sufficient numbers to produce the same level of pollination as honeybees.
Sunflowers are a good pollen source for bees but offer limited nectar. In addition, some species, such as the pollenless varieties, offer no value as a food source.
The sunflowers benefit significantly from the pollination service rendered by the bees, which can dramatically increase the flower’s seed production, making a major difference to their seed yield!