Sunflowers: Good for Bees and Birds

This article is applicable every year, and sunflowers never get old!

img_4850

Photo taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

Sunflowers are an icon of summer, and sometimes a beautiful centerpiece in a fall bouquet.  Our eyes are captivated by their varieties and astonishing heights they can reach in a growing season. We enjoy their seeds at baseball games, and their oil in salad dressing, but there is more to the story of the sunflower that includes the lives of bees, and birds.

The sunflower blooms do not appear until the middle of summer, and will continue to bloom into the fall months.  Each flower is host to as many as 2000 individual flowers called florets.  Sunflowers are adorned with copious amounts of pollen, and deep within each floret is a tasty drink of nectar for any interested visitors.  If you look closely at the photo above, you will see yellow dust all over the bottom petals!

Pollen is half of the reproductive equation in flowers, and is produced on the male part of the flower, the anthers.  The other half is the egg, which lies deep within the female part of the flower, the ovary at the base of the stigma.  Interestingly, the sunflower has evolved to display anthers with pollen on them first, sans the stigma of the flower.  Oh, and let’s not forget that this “one” sunflower contains up to 2000 individual flowers, each containing both male and female parts.  So, each floret stands the chance of becoming an individual seed capable of growing into another sunflower with 2000 more florets!  This is a seed producing machine!

Who is responsible for transferring the pollen to the right place at the right time? Bees!

img_4886img_4848

Photos taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

Bees are after a vegan meal consisting of nectar, first and foremost, and then pollen.  As they traverse across the sunflower bees transfer pollen from florets with pollen baring anthers to florets baring open stigmatic structures ready to pick up pollen.  If you look closely at the top photo of the sunflower with a pollen-caked bumblebee snacking the nectar in each floret, you can easily recognize that the bee is very effective at picking up pollen and transferring it to just the right spot.  The bees do not know that their visits to flowers results in the plant’s replication; they are really only there to feed.  The middle photo shows a green sweat bee feeding on the florets of the sunflower, and you can really see where the anthers (yellow dots) are, and where the stigmatic structures are (on the periphery of the yellow dots).  The anthers are the first to appear in this process, while the stigmatic structures show up after, and this order of events prevents self-pollination of the plant, which results in fewer seeds and oil of lesser quality.

img_4808

Photo taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

So, the bees spend their time traversing and reveling in the nectar provisions of the sunflower from mid-summer into the fall, and then something remarkable happens.  The flower goes from this beautiful, bright bloom like the one above, to this…

img_5313

And what was once covered in pollen and filled with nectar becomes a seed-filled delight for birds! Each seed is full of protein and fat for birds, and other interested visitors.

img_5297img_5325img_5335img_5342

All photos taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

What started out as a wonderful provision for bees became a delicious meal for birds, because each piece fed the other. The flower fed the bees, the bees transformed the flowers into seeds, and the birds enjoyed their feeds!  What a lesson of interconnectedness this is.

Sunflowers are native to North America and grow well everywhere! Consider adding them to your yard next spring so you can feed both bees and birds, and maybe you’d like a taste of the sunflower seeds too!

Here are some wonderful resources on all things Sunflower:

History of the Sunflower

Following the SUN

Plant Them

Sunflowers

Thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!  What’s good for the bees is also good for the birds!

 

 

 

A Colorado Spring

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Could a girl ask for any more color or variety of life? It’s such a beautiful time of the year and so many things are waking up, including pollinators!

Don’t forget to plant more flowers this year, and make sure they are a different variety than what you already have. This will attract even more pollinators to your yard!  So far, I have seen Andrena (mining bees), bumble bees of two varieties, mason bees, and evidence of leafcutter bees, hummingbirds, wasps, hover flies, beetles, and of course honeybees.  

I nearly killed the biggest wasp I’ve ever seen when I went to put my flip flops on and there it was! It was nestled on the toe strap, and it didn’t even move when I nearly crushed it.  As it turns out she is a Bald Faced Hornet. She had just emerged from her hibernating phase. These wasps will lay eggs and develop a eusocial operation as bumble bees do, and mated queens will hibernate and wake the following spring to repeat the cycle.  They can be aggressive if you are near their nest, obviously, so observe with respect.

I was so lucky to have seen her! She is just beautiful! Check out this video! 

IMG_2373

Forage Rhymes with Porridge

Forage is to bees what porridge is to us, food.  

IMG_1515

Forage is the technical term for flowers. Flowers contain a complete meal to whomever will dine at their beautiful tables of color.  Pollen provides a complete protein enriched bite, while nectar provides a rush of carbohydrates ready for immediate energy.

Flowers add such beauty to any landscape, and it’s time we plant more in our own yards.  They not only add beauty, but they sustain the extremely important lives of pollinators.  

This truly is the simplest, most “hands-off” way to help the plight of pollinators.  In doing so you may become a native beekeeper by default, because native bees nest close to their food sources, and how lucky would you be to benefit from the pollination bounty as a result!

Native bees have taken the back seat to the honeybees, but they are extremely important and are just as in danger as honeybees.  They don’t make honey, so we haven’t taken to “keeping” them, because “what’s in it for us?”

Well, I will tell you this, our livelihood is what’s in it for us, and it’s the easiest “beekeeping” you’ll ever experience!!

Native bees will roam between 200 ft – 15o0 ft, with exception to bumblebees who roam one mile and beyond, to find flowers to feed on.  This means that if you see some of these native bees foraging in your yard, they are likely nesting there too, and guess what? All you needed to do was plant flowers!

The distance a bee travels is largely based on its size. The smallest bee family, Perdita measures from under 0.1-0.5 inches long!!  Perdita will travel no further than 200 ft to forage.  200 ft doesn’t seem far to us, but to these little bees, it’s an amazing feat and they do it many times each day to collect enough pollen and nectar for their eggs!

The larger native bees, with exception to the bumblebees, measure between 0.5-1 inch in length, and travel between 600-1500 ft.  1500 ft is like flying over four football fields one way, just to get food.  Now imagine being only 1 inch long and flying your little wings that distance to get groceries, and not just once each day, but multiple times! Are you impressed? I am! I think one trip to the grocery store in my car one time each week is plenty, and that takes minimal energy stores from me.  I cannot imagine what these bees must burn in calories each day!

Bumblebees measure between 0.5-1 inch in length, and can travel 1 mile and more when forced to do so.  They are much bigger so they are better at covering greater distances.  However, they would likely prefer a food source in close proximity to their nest.

The primary goal of all native bees is to raise as many young as possible from spring to fall.  So, as you can imagine, the greater the distance a bee must travel to get pollen and nectar, the more time is spent flying to and from the source, and less time is spent laying more eggs and forming bigger nests.  This correlates the number of bees raised in a season with the number of flowers visited each day, by each bee, in that season.  Ideally, native bees are able to find good nesting sites next to excellent food sources, thus increasing the number of bees raised in a season.

This is where we come in!

 

The most important step to take is to plant more flowers, and native flowers are ideal as they take less effort from you and the environment to sustain their lives.  Native bees are also more familiar with native flowering plants.  Be absolutely certain the flowering plants you plant are organic and raised without any harsh chemicals.  We don’t want to provide poisonous food sources to bees (and any other pollinators who will frequent your flower-ful yard).

Bees will not come unless you build a healthy food source first!  So, get your pen and paper out and begin plotting where you will add flowers to your yard this spring!

Next week I will talk about creating a good variety of nesting sites for all the 4000 species of native bees in North America!

Thank you for joining this very important movement to save our bees!

Jess

Here’s a short list of flowering plants suitable to grow in Las Vegas and other drought stricken locations!

Lantana

Desert bird of paradise

Bottlebrush

Orange trumpet vine

California poppies

Milkweed (Monarchs need lots of these flowers for survival, and we can help by planting more. Click here and get instructions specific to Las Vegas, NV)

Yarrow

Blanket flowers

Black eyed susans

Hyssop

Bee Balm

Hollyhocks

Chicks and hens

Thank you for joining the movement to help our pollinating friends!!

Wonders of a garden could keep my attention all day long.

What’s in your yard? Have you taken the time to observe? I could spend all day outside in my garden just looking and listening.  It brings me a sense of peace and child-like wonder when I am surrounded by nature.  Please make an effort to do this for yourself; we could all use more nature in our lives!

Thank you for joining the movement!

Shape and Color Matters in Pollination!

Pollination, in the simplest of terms, is the transfer of the pollen from the male part of the flower to the female part, which results in fertilization and the formation of a seed and sometimes fruit.

There are two forms of pollination, wind and animal. I am focusing on animal assisted pollination, as I am partial to pollinators.

Animals are not easily enticed into helping other species, unless they are fooled into it by reward. Flowers are beautiful and carry a pocket of goodness at the bottom of the bloom, which carries nectar. Nectar, as we all know, is sweet, and not one animal on this planet would reject a sweet drink! In seeking the nectar, the animal is fooled into assisting in plant reproduction.

One trick flowers play to get the help of animals is the depth to which an animal must go to retrieve the nectar. The male (anthers) and female (stigma) parts of the flower are the gatekeepers, which means pollen granules will brush onto the animal as it seeks the sweet treat. And as the animal shifts around on the flower eating as much nectar as possible, a pollen granule will be delivered to the stigma from the body of the animal, and then fertilization occurs leading to seed and/or fruit! This can happen within one flower or from one flower to another.

This is a simple diagram to give you a visual of what I am talking about. The receptacle is where the nectar is found. Many flowers differ from this shape, but the idea is the same. 

IMG_1560

A beautiful poppy from my backyard gives you a real life version of the above diagram.

The second trick is the beauty of the beholder, which is demonstrated through color and scent. The colors are very important to pollinators. For simplicity’s sake, I will focus on bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. There are many more pollinators than this very popular trio, but I’d like to keep it simple for all to enjoy!

This trio shares the ability to either see UV or nearly UV ranges. This ability allows them to see the center of a flower more clearly, where the good stuff is. They also have their own specialty color site, which guides them to their favorite dining blooms.

This is probably how pollinators see a flower in the UV range. Notice the center is perfectly mapped! Bull’s eye!

Bees see color five times faster than we can, which assists in spotting food at high speeds of flight! They can see blue, green, orange, yellow and UV, but find it very challenging to see red especially on a green background.

Butterflies are nearsighted and see the colors white, pink, purple, red, orange, yellow and UV, but can also struggle to distinguish red from a green background.

Hummingbirds, on the other hand, can see the ranges we see, plus a little into the UV range! So, red is not challenging for them to see, and often is the color of choice for blooms to feed on. Not much competition for nectar when you are the only one who can clearly see red!

As each pollinator dines on nectar, they will end up with pollen on their bodies.

Bees will collect it on their abdomen, and into their pollen baskets on their hind legs (this isn’t true for every species of bee). The furry bodies of bees collect lots of pollen by electrostatic attraction, and bees will use that pollen as a protein rich meal.

Look under her belly and you'll see why a mason bee is so efficient at pollinating!

Look closely and you’ll see a yellow belly!

IMG_1515

There’s no mistaking where the pollen is here!

Butterflies will collect some on their bodies as well, but not as much as bees, and without intent to consume it.

Hummingbirds will collect it on their heads, as they often visit long, tubular flowers, and need to dive in deep to get the nectar.

All three ways of carrying pollen results in fertilization of a flower!

Pollinators also have preferred landing, or hovering space, and flowers are designed accordingly!

Bees like a broad range of shapes and sizes! They grip the flower with their feet, sometimes even upside down, as they feed on the nectar, with their proboscis, and collect the pollen.

image IMG_1294 IMG_0531 IMG_0472

IMG_1044IMG_0362

Bumble bees like shapes similar to that preferred by the hummingbirds, tubular, and have no problem extracting pollen from hard to reach places, such as that of the tomato flowers. However, bumblebees do know to feed on other floral structures too; wouldn’t want to miss out on all the nectar choices!

IMG_8632 IMG_0504 IMG_1242IMG_1566

IMG_1555 A tomato bloom in my garden.

Butterflies like a broad landing surface, such as a sunflower or daisy can provide. They like to perch and dine, through their long proboscis, to their heart’s content.

IMG_7545 IMG_7938

IMG_8422 IMG_8435IMG_1526

Hummingbirds are best in flight and like flowers shaped like trumpets, which is in accordance with the structure of their beaks. They need space to hover under or above the bloom while they drink the sweet taste of nectar. They gravitate toward the bright red blooms, but will feed on other colors too.

I urge you to take advantage of this knowledge and make plans to plant more flowering plants of all varieties, and native to your state. In doing so, you will see your yard come to life, and you might even score some fantastic photos of these fascinating creatures, both floral and animal!

Shape Matters!

Did you know that flowers are engineered to attract pollinators? The variety of size and color of all flowers on Earth isn’t an accident.  It’s a purposeful show to attract the creatures who will assist flowers to reproduce and continue to thrive on this planet!

I invite you to join the movement this week to learn more on this topic and how to utilize this knowledge to attract a wider variety of pollinators to your yard!