SUNFLOWER (Helianthus)

Ricoh DC 4UThe Americas

The sunflower is worth growing for wildlife, especially the birds and the bees.

Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamins B & E. Sunflower cultivation, for oil and food, has a history that began with Native Americans and owes much to the Russians and the Europeans.


“The leaves are used for fodder; the flower for its yellow dye. The seeds are eaten as a food, and yield an oil… which reduces the cholesterol level of the blood. The Indians used the oil as a hair grease, and warm, as a rub for rhumatic parts. The baked roots were also used, as a poultice, in rheumatism and arthritis, bruises and contusions. The entire plant was holy to the sunworshippers of Peru & was used in religious ceremonies.”

Jeanne Rose’s Herbal, HERBS & THINGS, Grosset & Dunlap, Workman Publishing Company, New York 1972.


Bees’ Favourite.

 Paul de Zylva, Senior Campaigner on Nature at Friends of the Earth, gives detailed advice on ‘Growing sunflowers for bees, birds and other wildlife’:

“The brightly coloured petals shout “Oi! Over here!” to bees and other pollinators like hoverflies, directing them to the central spirals of the sunflower. These are formed of many hundreds of small tubular flowers, packed with nectar and pollen. The insects get covered in pollen as they feed. Pollination by wild bumblebees and bee species with longer tongues especially helps the plant produce more quality seed.”



The webpage includes FOE‘s Bee Cause Campaign, with 28 great plants for bees – “as well as flowers, think of herbs, fruit, vegetables, shrubs & trees –  they can all provide nectar when they are in flower.”

Bees seen around the UK between 19th May & 30th June 2016 were counted in The Great British Bee Count. See the results here, superimposed on a map of the UK.


   The Goulson Lab at the University of Sussex includes the sunflower on its website

The best garden flowers for bees

Here in the Highbury Wildlife Garden, sunflower seeds are favourite foods for sparrows & other small birds. We buy ready shelled seed as well as black sunflower seeds in their shells, & there are feeders for those seeds. Black sunflowers seeds have more oil than striped seeds, and are favourites with the birds.

Monika, who lived here before I moved in, persuaded RF to try growing sunflowers in the garden. They would be wonderful to look at, & birds could eat the seeds. He did his best, planting seeds year after year.



Sunflowers did grow from the seeds – usually on stalks that were 6ft or taller – but the plants were always brought down by squirrels just as the seeds ripened. Captured flowerheads were bitten off & dragged to the top of the brick wall, where all seeds were devoured. If you want to grow sunflowers, first look at your area to see if it has a strong squirrel population. If it has, you may need to become ingenious about protecting your Helianthus.

B5 Baytree Corner - Sunflowers, reds of Lobelia, Bishop of Llandaff

Records for sunflowers have included the tallest (25 ft (750 cm) tall, grown in the Netherlands) the largest sunflower head (32 1/2 in (80 cm) across, grown in Canada) & the shortest (just over 2 in (50mm) tall, grown in Oregon using the Bonsai technique.