Posts Tagged: sunflower bees
You can tell it's summer along Yolo County roads by the acres and acres of sunflower fields.
Looking like real-life Van Gogh paintings (Van Gogh painted them in vases, Mother Nature paints them in rows), the sunflower fields are nothing short of spectacular. With tousled heads rising toward the sun and golden locks nodding in the breeze, they stand their ground.
Sunflowers (Helianthus Annuus), native to North America, are one of our most recognizable flowers. They're a good food source, a designer's dream, and dugout tradition.
Earlier this year we fielded a call from a young man from southern California who wanted to know when the sunflowers would bloom in Yolo County. He wanted to propose to his girlfriend in a sunflower field.
This is one agricultural crop that does not go unnoticed. Not by people, not by animals, not by birds, and especially not by honey bees and sunflower bees.
Honey bees and a sunflower bee forage on a sunflower head. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee boxes line a sunflower field. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A spectacular sunflower field. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Their golden heads turned toward the sun, their fringed petals aglow, sunflowers set an amicable scene in a world sometimes darkened by strife and sorrow.
Take, for example, the sunflower fields along Pedrick Road in Dixon, Calif. They are spectacular. A Vincent Van Gogh painting come to life.
And, the bees make it happen.
The non-native honey bees (Apis mellifera), brought to America in 1622 by the European colonists, and the native sunflower bees (Svastra spp.) are everywhere.
It was not always like that. The sunflower bees were here first.
In fact, Native Americans began cultivating the sunflower (Helianthus annuus), a native American plant, 3,000 years ago. When the honey bee arrived, they called it "The White Man's Fly."
The Native Americans made "yellow dye from the petals and purple dye from the immature seeds" of sunflowers, according to What's That Crop? authors Janet Byron, managing editor of California Agriculture, and science and environmental writer Robin Meadows.
They place the value of California's 42,000 acres of sunflowers in the Central Valley at $9.5 million a year.
"Most of California’s sunflower crop is grown for oil, and it takes about 100 pounds of seed to make 40 pounds of oil," they wrote. "The remaining protein-rich meal is used in livestock feed. Besides producing sunflower seeds for snacking and cooking oil, the state also supplies most of the planting seeds sown by sunflower farmers nationwide."
You can follow them on their Facebook page, "What's that Crop?"
Latest statistics released in March of 2012 by the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, indicated that "California farmers were expecting to plant 39,000 acres of sunflowers for oil, down 2 percent from last year, and 7,000 acres of non-oil sunflowers, up 75 percent from 2011."
The annual NASS forecasts are based on a survey of more than 2500 California farmers during the first two weeks of March.
Honey bee heads for a sunflower in a field off Pedrick Road, Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of honey bee foraging on a sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Row of hives along sunflower field on Pedrick Road, Dixon, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A field of green ribboned in yellow.
Anyone who drives down Pedrick Road in Dixon, Calif., and sees the spectacular sunflower fields can't help but smile.
Yellow sunflowers do that to you. They make you smile.
A native of the Americas and the state flower of Kansas, the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) brightens gardens and run-down neighborhoods, but when it's planted in rows and each head turns toward the sun, it's like a thousand suns and a thousand smiles.
Add honey bees and native bees, and nature's canvas is complete.
If you visit a sunflower field early in the morning, you might see male long-horn bees, genus Melissodes, sleeping in aggregations, on the heads.
As native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, points out: "Males of native solitary bees do not have nests to return to at night as the females do. So they fend for themselves in a variety of different ways such as these sleeping aggregations, or within tubular flowers that close up each day, like squash bee males do in squash flowers."
That's bee heaven.
Honey bee foraging on sunflower in a field off Pedrick Road, Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dixon, Calif. farmland ablaze with sunflowers. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of sunflowers. Just add bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Head's up! A lone sunflower head towers above the field as bees buzz toward to it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)