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URBAN LANDSCAPES: Blooming sunshines on Ford's fields are creating a buzz all around

September 29, 2003

The sunflowers on Ford Motor Co.'s property in Dearborn are for the birds.

The automaker planted 80 acres of sunflowers in July as food for birds and other wildlife. But the sunflowers zoomed onto avian and public radar last week when the splashy flowers started opening.

Sue Stetler drives by the plots regularly on trips to visit her mother and wondered what kind of plants were growing there.

"We didn't know what they were. My sister said, 'Oh, it's green beans,' " said Stetler of Dearborn. Then a few weeks ago, they started seeing the buds and finally the first sunflowers unfurled.

The panorama is so spectacular, Stetler said Thursday, that she plans to post an image of it on the Web site of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, where she manages communications and creative services.

At Ford Motor Land Development Corp., the sunflowers are generating lots of phone calls to Angie Kozleski.

"Sunflowers aren't something you expect to see in an urban setting. It's catching everyone's attention," Kozleski, spokeswoman for Ford's real estate division, said Thursday. The 87,000 sunflower plants, some of which are 5 to 6 feet tall, will be left standing all winter to feed wildlife.

Last year, Ford planted an 18-acre parcel of sunflowers for wildlife and called it a success. This year, after acres of property were used for parking and staging during the Ford centennial in June, Ford Land decided to plant sunflowers interspersed with buckwheat for wildlife rather than try to restore lawns and landscaping, Kozleski said.

The company obtained the seeds, which were planted on 6-inch centers, from a local farmer and timed the planting so the flowers would be opening just before the first frost.

"It's sort of the last call for nectar and here's a botanical cafe that's still open," Rick Simek, naturalist at the Environmental Interpretive Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said Friday.

Honeybees in hives on campus were unusually productive last year, probably because the Ford sunflowers were within easy flight distance for the bees, Simek said. Honeybees typically go a mile but can travel up to 5 miles seeking nectar, he said.

The sunflower plantings are a stage for insect pollinators, plant seed production and seed-eating birds because of a human decision to create a space "that is not only aesthetically pleasing but biologically productive" in the city, Simek said. "If it was a mowed area, the biological productivity would be minimal."

The Wildlife Habitat Council of Silver Spring, Md., of which Ford is a member, certified the land around the carmaker's Dearborn headquarters as a wildlife habitat in 2000. It has an arboretum of native trees and shrubs, a no-mow area, plantings to encourage birds and butterflies and a hedgerow that offers wildlife food and protection.

The sunflowers add to that and give a boost to people, too. Seeing a bit of nature in an urban setting lifts public morale as well as that of Ford employees, according to Vanessa Kauffman, communications director for the nonprofit Wildlife Habitat Council.

The sunflowers are growing on four parcels. At the Henry Ford II World Center, there are 20 acres of sunflowers at Hubbard and Southfield and 20 acres at Michigan and Mercury Drive. Other sunflower plots are on 15 acres at the now-closed Quality Manufacturing and Purchasing Building at Rotunda and Southfield, and on 25 acres at the former site of a parts and service building at Schaeffer and Rotunda.

The sunflowers will be plowed under next spring. Kozleski said Thursday she did not know whether sunflowers would be planted next summer.

(Left Photo)Ford Motor Co. planted 80 acres of sunflowers on land that was used during the centennial celebration in June. These flowers are blooming in Dearborn.

(Right Photo)A sunflower attracts bees on the Ford property near Michigan Avenue and Mercury Drive in Dearborn on Friday.

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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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