So, I'm attempting to harvest sunflower seeds from some giant sunflowers I planted an age ago. Unfortunately, there's nothing inside the seed pods!

I believe the sunflower was a 'giant', it may have been a mammoth though (actually it may have been both as I just used some old seeds my mom gave me a year or two ago and threw away the packs). Also searching for this info on the Internet is hard since 'giant' is also a brand of sunflower seeds (apparently not coming from giant sunflowers)

Should there be anything inside the seed pods to begin with? i.e., whether or not certain sunflower varieties are purely ornamental.

  • @PeterTurner Where you are, did you experience an exceptionally hot, dry Summer or an early Autumn (Fall)?
    – Mike Perry
    Oct 14, 2011 at 22:21
  • I've had 8ft sunflowers with plenty of seeds that have grown the following year - so at least some varieties are fertile.
    – Andy Boura
    Aug 2, 2014 at 23:01
  • There's a severe bee shortage in some areas, so pollination might be a problem. Bees are sunflower pollinators "seed set as low as 10-20% results when pollinators are absent and plants self-pollinate, compared to up to 90% seed set in flower heads accessible to pollinators." pollinator.ca/bestpractices/sunflowers.html Sep 9, 2015 at 23:34
  • The last comments were from 2015, it is now 2016. For the first time I grew a great crop of very tall sunflowers. They look great. Not a single seed inside the shells. I am going with the assumption that the seeds I bought were from a type that will no longer be able to produce seeds....heaven knows why, that is the point of the Sunflower. Last year I had small sunflowers and the seeds were complete to feed the birds. This year was a waste of garden space. There are plenty of bees around. :-(
    – user15473
    Jul 29, 2016 at 14:25

5 Answers 5


I have had that happen to me before, and I found a very small worm, the sunflower moth larvae, resembling a miniature corn ear worm. They were boring very small holes in the shells and eating the insides out. They can be controlled the same way as corn ear worms. They can do real damage to a crop of sunflowers.


Do you mean the flower has died back (all brown and dead looking), but when you break the head apart, there aren't any seeds? These are typically black or stripey.

If they are missing, then the florets did not pollinate - I've often seen this where only a part of the flower pollinates, and perhaps the edges don't. Also, don't discount animals. Birds and squirrels will be quick to feed on a sunflower head. A squirrel will usually destroy the whole thing, but birds can be more adept at picking the seeds out.

The last time I grew sunflowers, they were "Mammoth". 8ft high perhaps, although this varied (some as low as 4ft), single flower per plant. The stems were notable woody. A wooden tube with what resembled foam on the inside. The foam rots quickly leaving a wooden tube. I sawed mine up and threw them in the compost.

  • 2
    I think he means that it has seed pods, but they are empty. (I.e. the shell with the stripe is hollow -- the hull or shell has no seed inside.) I've had this happen in the past, but have no idea why. In my case, not all of the shells were empty, because when I rubbed off all of the shells from one head this past spring and scattered them on the ground, I did manage to get a few plants -- a rough guess would be maybe 1% germination?
    – bstpierre
    Oct 15, 2011 at 16:23

I had mixed results with sun flower seeds this year. I work in over 6 gardens: 3 Boys and Girls Club, 2 elementary school, and my home gardens.

Sun flowers need bees, butterflies, beetles or moths to pollinate. They do not have the self pollinating flowers like tomatoes & peppers.

If you lack insects, buy or build a Mason Bee habitat. They do not make honey, do not swarm, defend their hives or act aggressively. They get their name because they use mud to build their homes.

Amazing fact: Mason Bees Are Prolific Pollinators

Adult mason bees sip nectar as they gather pollen from a wide assortment of flowers, but they prefer to find good pollen sources within 300 feet of their nests.

Up to 1,500 blossoms per day must be visited to gather enough pollen to provide for the next generation, so mason bees can be phenomenally efficient pollinators of fruits. Only three female mason bees are needed to serve the pollination needs of a mature apple tree.

Read more about Mason bees in this article from Mother Earth News: How to Attract Mason Bees: A Beneficial Pollinator


I harvested maybe 5,000 seeds, per information on the internet and none had an internal seed and none produced any plants or were edible to birds.

I fully believe the original seed to have been "doctored" to not reproduce! Such is the planet on which we live.


I am experiencing the same issue. this is my first year of harvest and was looking forward to it but I too have had very few Kernels inside the shell. Reading the above comments as ideas and observations I also have had a very early, hot summer with few bee's to pollinate. My harvest was only three giant heads (18 inch) that yielded around two gallons of seeds. I would estimate 1/3 to 1/2 do not have Kernels inside.

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