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Gardeners: Help improve America's bee power

Contribute to science and create habitat for native bees and more forage for honeybees as part of the Great Sunflower Project


SAN FRANCISCO, April 4, 2011 -- The Great Sunflower Project is looking for more "citizen scientists" from across the U.S. and Canada who are willing to create pollinator habitat for native bees. The nation's first coast-to-coast study on native bee populations aims to involve 100,000 volunteers in its 4th year of data collection.

"Having healthy pollinators is important for both natural systems and our food supply," says the project's director, Gretchen LeBuhn, an associate professor of biology at San Francisco State University. "After all, we can thank bees for every third bite of food we take."

Volunteers plant "Lemon Queen" sunflowers and other suitable vegetation in sunny yards, window boxes, on patios and sundecks. Once the plants flower, participants observe bee pollination twice a month for 15 minutes at a time and record such information as the type of bees and the frequency of visits. Now in its 4th year, the project has collected data from urban, suburban and rural settings in every state and parts of Canada.

The data is helping to produce the first real map of the life of bees in the continental United States. LeBuhn hopes that her analysis of the data will contribute to a better scientific understanding of what helps and impedes bee pollination. Records for the first three years of the project have revealed that while some volunteers never saw a bee, most saw one pollinate every 2.5 minutes. 

LeBuhn, the author of  "Attracting Native Pollinators" is asking volunteers who have the space to devote as much as a square yard -- 36" x 36" -- in their yard to the sunflowers and other plants known to attract pollinators including California poppies, Echinacea, Bee Balm, Cosmos, Rosemary, Tickseed and purple coneflower.

"All it takes are flowering plants that will bloom continuously throughout the summer," LeBuhn said. "Not only will you be creating an excellent opportunity to observe bee pollination, you'll be increasing the pollination of everything else you grow."

Volunteers of all ages from Alaska to Florida are encouraged to get involved. Among the 90,000 volunteers the project has already involved are gardening clubs, civic groups, nature museums, universities and public school classes.

To volunteer or learn more about the Great Sunflower Project, visit http://www.greatsunflower.org/ or email sfbee@sfsu.edu.  LeBuhn hopes that most or all of the sunflowers will be planted by National Pollinators Week, June 20 to 26 http://pollinator.org/pollinator_week_2011.htm

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FOR INTERVIEWS WITH GRETCHEN LEBUHN, please contact Denize Springer at (415) 405-3803 or (415) 338-1665 or denize@sfsu.edu


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