Pollen or Nectar? What’s the Difference?

Hi Lovelies,

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With my recent spree of posting about sunflowers, I’ve gotten a couple of questions via email. So, why not try to answer them here! Hooray! 🙂

It’s no secret, that I’m absolutely in love with pollenless sunflowers. They’re truly a gem for anyone who loves cutting flowers. They’re cheerful, classic, and most importantly they’re extremely adaptable. However, being “pollen-free” can also lead to a lot of questions regarding how this fact impacts birds, bees, and other flying critters. Am I being selfish by selecting varieties that benefit me?

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Will the pollinators still like this Procut Bicolor without pollen?

This made start thinking, which ultimately lead to researching. I honestly didn’t know the answers to some of the questions I was asked, and it really sparked my interest.  Was I hurting my bees by not giving them what they need? There’s a quite nice article by Rodale’s Organic Life that helped me to truly better understand.  As it turns out, there are some sunflowers which are naturally pollen-free. The process is not the Frankenstein laboratory experiment that some people may automatically imagine. Breeding occurs, and a new hybrid is created.

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“Don’t mind me, just gonna stick my proboscis in here real quick for a drink.”

Years ago when I first started growing my own vegetables, I had very little clue as to how the things I ate grew. Every veggie that I planted was a learning experience and I was absolutely amazed by the important role that pollen and pollinators played in my garden. While pollination was responsible for my fruits and veggies, I was also under the assumption that pollen was what the bees and butterflies needed first and foremost. In true “city girl” fashion, I was wrong. Pollen, of course, is used by the plant for reproduction and is carried from one flower to another to produce progeny, or seeds. Therefore, the sunflowers need pollen to produce seed that would then fall to the ground and ensure the survival of the species for years and years to come. If you grow solely pollenless hybrids, your birds may not be very happy with you! This is the reason I always plant both pollen-free and open-pollinated varieties each year.

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Nectar was the true moneymaker when it came to attracting the right kind of pollinators into my garden. Worker bees collect nectar which later becomes honey. Bumblebees feed primarily on nectar. And, of course, butterflies literally flock to the stuff.

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So as it turns out, pollen is a food source for some beneficial insects, but nectar is still of major importance. Since pollen-free sunflowers still produce nectar, you’ll still find plenty of bees and butterflies visiting the flowers in your garden, even if you do choose to grow these hybrids. Power to the pollinators! Much love!

More about Bumblebees

Rodale’s Sunflowers Explained

How Honey is Made

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