bee forage

Cosmos seeds for all kinds of bees


When I was a kid, the kitchen windows were decorated with colorful curtains printed with flowers and the word “cosmos.” The word was upside down and right side up and sideways. Not only did I think that was stupid, but I didn’t know what “cosmos” meant (I thought it had something to do with the sky) and I didn’t like the way it sounded. I never once associated the word with the flowers.

Many years later I realized the connection, but after spending so many meals with that perplexing word kaleidoscoping in my vision, I never wanted anything to do with cosmos. Of course, all that changed last summer when I discovered cosmos as a bee plant.

I quickly learned that all types of bees visited the flowers, including honey bees, bumbles, carpenters, leafcutters, and sweat bees. Also visiting were an array of butterflies, moths, hover flies, solitary wasps, beetles, and flower spiders. And the flowers themselves are pretty, blooming in various shades of pink, red, white, gold, and purple, all of which sway atop feathery foliage.

I didn’t buy cosmos seeds on purpose, but they came in all the pollinator mixes I tried last spring. Some mixes even contained more than one variety. Now I’m scouring my seed sources, looking for as many varieties of cosmos as I can find. I’d like to plant them in my garden, and I’m thinking of growing them in planters as well.

Of course, you never know how a pollinator plant will behave in a different environment, or how well it will attract insects. A lot depends on what else is in bloom at the same time. Nevertheless, you may want to give this one a try.

Here are some miscellaneous facts I came across:

  • Cosmos belongs to the Asteraceae (sunflower) family
  • Many species belong to the genus Cosmos
  • The plant is an annual
  • The seeds can be planted outdoors after the last frost, or indoors 4-to-6 weeks earlier
  • The plants need only moderate soil fertility
  • The plants quickly reach their full height of 1 to 7 feet, depending on variety
  • Blooming can be extended by deadheading the spent flowers

Although the flowers provide both nectar and pollen for the insects that visit, I was most enchanted by the leafcutting bees that freely snipped the flower petals for use in their nests. What a useful plant for bees!



Field of cosmos. Pixabay photo.


Bees collect both nectar and pollen from cosmos. Pixabay photo.


A honey bee nectars on a cosmos flower in spite of leafcutter damage. © Rusty Burlew.


Leafcutting bees use perfectly round petal pieces to line their nests. © Rusty Burlew.

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  • Rusty,

    You’re really a very talented writer. I thoroughly enjoy every column you write, and I’ve learned more from you than any other beekeeper.

    Cosmos are very easy to grow anywhere without frost, and they come in an enormous variety. Best seeds come from Baker Creek, from my experience. Online and at seed banks. They’re reseeders, too, so they’ll usually comeback year after year.

    Bumbles just adore them, but as you mentioned, no bees skip them.

  • Have you looked at the American Meadows web site ??? Great company to deal with. They have all kinds of cosmos, as well as many other pollinator flowers.

  • I guess the universe was trying to speak to you long ago, when you were looking at those curtains as a child. How cute.

  • I so enjoy reading your posts. Today’s post included such beautiful pictures of cosmos, one of my favorites. Thank you.

  • I love cosmos as they flower late into the fall so the bees have a late summer food source. Also, although they are annuals, mine have re-seeded every summer for years. I hate to admit that most summers I get more “volunteer” cosmos than I have room for in my gardens. And I live in Zone 4 so the seeds are definitely not coddled through the winter!

  • Hi Rusty —

    Somehow I disconnected your posts from my emails, and it took me several weeks to realize that you not appearing in my in-box was not because of some extended leave-taking of yours.

    Cosmos were my introduction to selective seed-saving, where I learned that by saving seed from the white flowers and replanting the white flower seed, that in time one can come up with a stand of mostly white cosmos. I’m more amazed that I had the patience to do that than I am by the results — these days I succumb to bright new seed packets and let the birds eat the seed I could save.

    • Glen,

      And here I thought you weren’t speaking to me anymore . . . But an extended leave is a welcome idea.

      • Cosmos are considered one of the best flowers for bees because of their ferocious rebloom. I have two acres of cosmos planted next to a first-time bee hive. I’m wildly curious what it will taste like. My brother is pushing me to grow foam flower because the honey is supposed to taste like marshmallows, but those are shade perennials that require a massive increase in energy. Hoping the cosmo honey is good enough not to need to switch to foam flower.

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