bee forage

Bees on a distant bloom

Bumble-bees-on-lemon-queen by Rusty Burlew.

Dilemma. Back in February, I asked any of you who are planting Lemon Queen sunflowers to take pictures of your bee visitors so I could display them in a photo gallery. Apparently, I didn’t think this through properly—my Lemon Queens are now approaching ten feet tall, while I (camera in hand) am still down here on planet Earth.

I can see why the bees love Lemon Queens: privacy. The paparazzi are held at bay by the towering stalks. The bees can look down, see us circling, and snicker. Worse, when the wind blows, instead of quivering for a few brief moments, these behemoths sway, carving enormous arcs through the firmament, making it really difficult (like impossible) to follow with a camera.

The one place where I might consider putting a ladder is on the north side of my garden, but of course sunflowers have this irritating habit of facing south. The south side is full of soft soil and mole holes, and I’m all too familiar with that sinking (literally) feeling when one leg of said ladder disappears into Wonderland.

I have some heavy-duty lenses but they are of the macro variety, not telephoto. Usually, I have to stick the lens right in the bee’s eyelashes to get any decent shots, so these photo sessions are not going well. I’ve tried shooting the Lemon Queens from the ground and all I get are big sunbursty-looking flowers with itsy-bitsy bees blending darkly against the brown center. I’ve seen a lot of bad “bee on sunflower” shots and now I know why.

So now what? For starters, I’m not going to assume that because my shots are bad, yours are too. With different cameras, firmer soil, and a better attitude, you might get great portraits, images the bees will want to print on canvas and post on Facebook.

So send what you have, and if I get enough I’ll make a page for them all. But here’s one thing I’m changing: it can be any type of sunflower, not just Lemon Queens. Tell me the variety if you know it, and I will include it with the photo. You can e-mail the photos to me or send a DropBox link. Be sure to say where you are and who took the photo—or, if you want to be cagey, just tell what to write in the caption. Thanks.



Two bumble bees on a Lemon Queen sunflower. © Rusty Burlew.


  • Mine are only 3 feet tall so far, and I believe two of them are starting to develop flower buds. Maybe it’s our heavy clay soil and the week of ground-saturating rain we had early on. (For reference, I’m in western NY state.) I planted a few other varieties as well. One is called Teddy Bear, and it’s a dwarf that grows only 3-4 feet tall. If the bees like it, that’s a better height for photos.

      • FYI, the Teddy Bears are not particularly attractive to bees. The center flowerlets have tiny petals, which make the flowers look “plush”, but I’m sure also makes it hard for bees to get to the good stuff. Mine seem to attract a lot of tiny beetles though. But honey, sunflower, and bumble bees all like the Taiyo and Valentine varieties, which are only a foot or so taller (in my garden, YMMV).

  • Rusty,
    It may be cheating . . . but a person could cut a few sunflowers and place them in controlled photo opp location.

    Dana Hoaglund

    • Dana,

      That would certainly bring them down to my level, but I wonder how long a cut flower produces nectar. Not long, I imagine.

  • Rusty,

    It may not be the most graceful tactic, but a “selfie” stick and your phone may give you the extra reach you need.

  • Game on!

    My lemon queens are about 9′ tall. I tried to shoot a bee on a shorter plant/lower flower yesterday and missed as she flew off as the pic snapped. I will see what I can capture tomorrow!

  • Unfortunately for us, our Lemon Queen sunflowers, as well as most of the other varieties we planted never got more than an inch or two above ground before our chipmunks collected them for their salad bowls.

  • Maybe try digging around the base and leaning the whole plant till the flowers are within reach ? You may need sticks to prop the stalk so it does’t continue leaning more and more.

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