Ron Wilson

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The Great Sunflower Project

The Great Sunflower Project: In the Beginning

The GSP was started by Dr. Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University. At first, she aimed to learn more about the well-being of pollinators across the country. She focused mostly on the 4,000 bee species native to the U.S. and Canada, because although many kinds of animals do some pollination, the bees are the queens of the pollination game—and we know surprisingly little about how they are doing. Given that a pollinator study in one small area generally takes years to complete and involves collecting thousands of insects, our lack of knowledge about the status of most individual pollinators isn’t likely to change soon. There simply isn’t enough time, money and expertise to overcome it. But this is where the Great Sunflower Project comes in.

How to Be a Citizen Scientist

You can find more information about the Great Sunflower Project and its related programs at

If you decide to participate in the Great Sunflower Project, make sure you have the right kind of ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflowers—there are two. The one needed for the project is an annual, a cultivar of Helianthus annuus. It has the classic sunflower look, but the flowers are lemon yellow. Make sure that neither the seeds nor the plants are treated with pesticides.


1. Plant lemon queen sunflower seeds. Please check to make sure that the seeds did not receive a neonicotinoid seed treatment. One way to do this is to buy an organic seed. If not organic, check to make sure the seeds weren’t treated with pesticides. The GSP recommends Renee’s Garden Seeds. They’ve partnered with Renee for a number of years. Renee has confirmed that they never pre-treat any of their seeds whether they are organic or not.

2. Submit at least 3 pollinator counts of at least 5-minutes duration.

This post is excerpted from the full-length feature The Great Sunflower Project in the March/April 2018 issue of Horticulture. You can download a copy here. Paige Embry is a longtime gardener and the author of Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them (Timber Press, February 2018). She lives in Seattle, Wash.

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