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Re: [beemonitoring] pollenless sunflowers

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  • Peter Bernhardt
    Dear Ms. Thompson: There s nothing annoying about your message as it exposes a problem familiar to most members of this group. You are entirely correct. The
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 1, 2009
      Dear Ms. Thompson:

      There's nothing annoying about your message as it exposes a problem familiar to most members of this group.  You are entirely correct.  The general public does not understand the pivotal importance of pollen in the diets of bees.  I first encountered this naivete while lecturing to undergraduates at the U. of Melbourne (Australia) in the early 1980's.  A student raised his hand and said, "I don't get it.  I thought bees came to flowers only for nectar."  The other students nodded in agreement.

      I replied, "Live pollen contains mostly fat and protein.  Nectar is made primarily of sugar and water.  You can't make a baby bee out of sugar and water."  Not only did this bring the house down but the co-lecturer and her instructors were so pleased by the student response they used my statement in years thereafter.  You may use it too... but give me credit.  

      It's very possible that this knowledge gap will correct itself following the release of Disney Corp's documentary on pollination in 2012(?) as there will be footage of bees sonicating nectarless flowers for pollen.    Dr. S. Buchmann has written and supervised much of the screenplay and will have more to say about it. As for the dearth of pollen-rich plants in seed catalogs, American gardening tastes in biodiversity are still limited.  Draw your audience's attention to what they can buy from Maclure & Zimmerman.  For those with more money get the catalog for live plants from "High Country Gardens."  They specialize in plants for xeriscaping and attracting pollinators (best selection of penstemons from a big commercial source in America).    

      Meanwhile, have you considered directing the public to popular books on the same topic or citing such books when you address them yourself?  Why not refer to Chapters 6, 9 and 12 of the following, easy to purchase book...?

      Bernhardt, P.  "The Rose's Kiss; A Natural History of Flowers."  Shearwater Press, Wawshington D.C. or order the paperback through U. of Chicago Press.


      Peter "I-got-a-million-of-'em" Bernhardt
      Dept, of Biology
      Saint Louis U.  


      On Wed, Apr 1, 2009 at 11:09 AM, Nikki Thompson <nthomps1@...> wrote:

      I hope the participants don't see this email as an annoyance. It is my
      communication with the SunflowerProject (last summer group) and Sam.
      Please disseminate this info. Nik
      Hello SunflowerProject group,
      I am an avid gardener in Hyattsville, MD (20781). I've planted there
      for 31 years. Early-on I became interested in native plants and all that
      usually follows through from that. I have managed 2 honeybee hives for 5
      years. This fall I met Sam Droege and participated in his USDA native
      bee taxonomy class. I'm no expert, but I've learned a lot. Knowing the
      public's general lack of awareness, after the class and some intensive
      reading, I've since made small presentations on native bees to
      interested gardeners and beekeepers.
      Last year I spread the word about this sunflower project to all that
      would listen. I had been sprouting sunflowers and zinnias, great
      xeriscape and pollinator plants, for nearly 10 years, distributing the
      seedlings to friends and family. Why not share? My disappointment was
      very high when I finally got to the seed catalogs this spring. Because
      of this project, you are surely aware of the necessity of pollen as a
      protein (and much more) source for all pollinators. I don't think the
      public understands this about the physiology of pollinators. They see
      pollen simply from the human perspective as the stuff of pollination
      itself and thus of no further interest. Please, can you help make folks
      aware of what I noted to Sam (see below). Otherwise we may have years of
      little availability of the seeds we need from our ready sources. Also,
      gardeners may be unaware that they are not 'setting the table'
      effectively which will be why they will not have the pollinators they
      hope to see.
      Thanks for listening. Please read my note to Sam. Nikki Thompson
      Hi Sam
      I was ordering veggie seeds for Glut Food Co-op and thought to pick
      up some sunflowers too.Of the 44 lines they offer, 27 are pollenless and
      another 8 have minimal or scant pollen. In checking availability in
      other catalogs, I found a similar trend.
      Speaking to the company sales rep at Johnny's Seeds, they commented
      this is the direction toward which the vendor market is leaning due to
      the commercial/florist trade's requests for a less messy flower. The
      other seedsmen are offering similar lines (even if they are Not as
      directed toward the commercial farmer as Johnny's) due to the supplies
      that are available to them from the source seed suppliers for their
      companies. Many of their items are simply repackaged seed, as you may be
      This may be a little thing, but in reality it is not. Having read some
      on the history of seed variety availability, the market place changes
      more rapidly than one would think and is extremely focused. I recall
      when Park Seed and Wayside Gardens merged not so many years back. It
      coincided, chance?, with some of our multiple years of droughty weather
      here in the East. The variety of seed available from Park's dropped
      dramatically. I had always been a loyal customer; they lost my business.
      Why look for what was not there?
      Back to the bees. As you commented, home gardens may be a "red
      herring". I feel it's important to know which way the wind is blowing.
      If you want to post this, feel that others in Extension , whatever, may
      be interested, please do. I was very interested in seeing the commentary
      on public plantings and lawn mixes and have passed on that info to
      numerous other groups. Thanks! Nikki
      PS and for the bees-- why look for what's not been there?

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