Join the Hunt for Bees —The Great Sunflower Project

Many studies have been done on agricultural bee populations and in recent times commercial beekeepers have experienced colony collapse. What scientists had not studied on a large scale was how the wild bees were doing and what effect that has on pollination of garden plants, crops, and wild plants.

great-sunflower-projectWhat is The Great Sunflower Project? In 2008, The Great Sunflower Project was started at San Francisco State University as a way to gather information about urban, suburban, and rural bee populations. People all over the US and Canada were re- cruited to observe their bees and be citizen scientists. They were asked to plant sunflowers in their gardens for a standardized study of bee activity and provide more resources for bees. Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and are wildly aractive to bees.

So far on average gardeners are likely to see a bee pollinate every 2.6 minutes. Surprisingly, over 20% of gardens never saw a bee!

How does it work? Everyone is welcome to participate in the Great Sunflower Project. The first step is to create an account at Then, select the level of participation that is right for you.

Participating is fun and can be done in pots on your deck or a garden.

Collecting data is simple.

  • It takes less than 15 minutes.
  • It’s easy.
  • No knowledge of bees required!

Twice per month, you will get an email giving you the preferred sampling weekend. Count the number of open flowers on the plant. Only count younger flowers that still have pollen or nectar (you can touch the center of the flower to see if there is pollen). Once you are seated, start timing and write down how long it takes for the first five bees to arrive at your sunflower. After 15 minutes, you can stop. If you haven’t seen five bees by then, record that also. Seeing very few or no bees is the most important data that you could get.

If you want to get fancier, you can try to identify your bees. Given the prevalence of Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees and the suggestion that bumble bees are struggling, researchers are especially interested in getting information on those groups.

If you want to participate or need more information, visit