Since their introduction to the market back in the 1980s, the pollenless sunflower market has gone from strength to strength.
In fact, it is now estimated that 90 percent of all ornamental sunflowers grown commercially in the USA are pollenless.
While on the face of it they look ostensibly the same as their pollen-filled relatives there are some differences and pollenless sunflowers have both their supporters and their detractors.
In this article we will look at the good and bad sides of pollenless sunflowers and answer the question, “Will pollenless sunflowers produce seeds?”.
Will Pollenless Sunflowers Produce Seeds?
Yes, pollenless sunflowers will produce seeds but only if there are pollen-producing sunflowers in the same garden or nearby. Bees can then take their pollen to the pollenfree sunflowers and seeds can be produced. If there are no pollen-producing sunflowers nearby, then no seed can mature.
The History of Pollenless Sunflowers
The 1980s were the decade everything changed in the sunflower world.
Up until then the sunflower was rarely seen as a cut flower or used in bouquets.
This shift began in 1986 when Sakata Seed, a global plant breeder and seed seller based in Japan, introduced Sunbridge, the world’s first pollenless ornamental sunflower.
And if the 80s were the decade when everything changed, then the 90s were the boom years for the sunflower.
1991 saw Takii Seed release the pollenless Sunrich Lemon variety. This flowered ten days earlier than anything else on the market, then in 1992 it debuted its sibling, Sunrich Orange. Takii claim this remains the world’s most popular ornamental sunflower.
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The United States got in on the act too, California sunflower breeder Tom Heaton brought the pollenless red sunflower species Chianti to the market in 1996 and he also introduced the popular all-pollenless ProCut series.
Suddenly the simple sunflower went from being a pretty plant widely seen in farmer’s fields but nowhere else, to one that was adorning vases on tabletops across the world.
But we are deviating from the question…
How Do Pollenless Sunflowers Reproduce?
Pollenless sunflowers cannot create seeds on their own, but if there are pollen-producing sunflowers in the same garden (or reasonably nearby) then they can produce viable seeds.
So let’s explain how.
Pollenless sunflowers are what is known as male sterile. They have only female characteristics.
Pollen is produced by the stamen, a plant’s male reproductive organ, so by nature they lack pollen. But bees still visit them as they produce nectar.
This means pollenless sunflowers can still create seeds. But a bee has to collect pollen from pollen-bearing sunflowers nearby and transfer it to the pollenless sunflower.
When that happens fertilisation is activated and the production of seeds is ensured.
So the bottom line is, if you sow pollenless sunflowers and also have bisexual sunflowers in your garden, or your neighbors have them in their gardens, then they will be able to be pollinated and be able to produce seed.
But if there are no pollen-producing sunflowers in the vicinity no seed will mature.
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Why Should I Grow Pollenless Sunflowers? The Advantages
It was John Dole, a professor of horticulture at North Carolina State and the executive adviser for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, who put the estimate out there that I referred to in my introduction. Around 90 percent of ornamental sunflowers grown commercially in America are pollenless.
So why are they so popular?
- They are much less messy. Primarily used as cut flowers, you don’t have the problem of the yellow pollen falling from a vase onto a table.
- They have a longer vase life. They will last around a fortnight in ideal conditions.
- They are easier to tolerate for people who have a sensitivity to pollen.
- They grow faster. Some varieties can produce blooms in little over two months.
There is no doubt pollenless sunflowers are favorites with both florists and home gardeners alike.
Why Shouldn’t I Grow Pollenless Sunflowers? The Disadvantages
Let’s be honest, those are some pretty selfish reasons us humans have for our love of pollenless sunflowers right?
They look better, take less maintenance, there is less mess to clean up, etc, etc.
So let’s spare a thought for the wildlife around us.
Pollenless sunflowers are not very bird and pollinator-friendly.
Let’s consider the humble bee, several species of which are listed as endangered.
In fact a report released by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Bombus Pollinators Association of Law Students revealed that the American honeybee has “declined by 89% in relative abundance and continues to decline toward extinction.”
Yes, pollenless sunflowers still produce nectar, so bees will still visit them, but then they have to spend time collecting pollen elsewhere.
In fact both bees and beetles are learning to avoid pollenless sunflowers and birds won’t like them either.
So if you grow just pollenless sunflowers you are depriving yourself of visits from insects and wildlife in general and making life more difficult for them.
Popular Varieties of Pollenless Sunflowers
With pollenless sunflowers being so popular these days there are plenty of varieties to choose from.
The aforementioned ProCut Series is one of the most widely seen. It has been a sunflower of choice for many gardeners as it is known for growing in most soil types, is hardy even by sunflower standards and comes in a variety of colors. It blooms extremely quickly too.
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Moulin Rouge is more than just a popular cabaret in Paris. It is also a beautiful pollenless sunflower in tones of rust, red and burgundy.
Widely seen in bridal bouquets and dominating reception centerpieces is ‘Buttercream’, a quick growing pollenless sunflower that springs up quickly and will outlast its pollinated counterparts.
These are just three examples. There are many, many other options out there.
As you can see pollenless sunflowers will produce seeds, just not as easily as pollinated cultivars.
They look beautiful and make wonderful cut flowers, however, if you like to grow your sunflowers for the birds and the bees, they are not for you.
That said, there certainly is room for gardens that grow pollen-producing sunflowers alongside pollenfree sunflowers.
This gives everyone the best of both worlds.
Birds and bees can benefit from the pollen-producing sunflowers and you get some wonderful cut flowers from the pollenfree sunflowers.