Nature’s Trellis

Cheerful and opportunistic, these sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge found the fire-blackened limbs of some neighboring trees perfect for climbing.

A few weeks earlier, a prescribed burn had consumed the grasses and shrubs surrounding the trees, even as it scorched their bark and stripped away their leaves.

Still, some newly sprouted sunflowers recognized the skeletal remains for what they were: an unexpected opportunity to imitate the vines they’d always envied. Their trellis may have been charred, but it supported them perfectly.


Comments always are welcome.


48 thoughts on “Nature’s Trellis

  1. I’ve noticed in wildflower guides that sunflowers are often said to favor “disturbed” ground. In my experience, that usually means construction sites, but you’ve shown that a prescribed burn also qualifies as an appropriate disturbance.

    1. I’ve always thought of construction sites, too. I’m accustomed to seeing masses of them in places like old railroad tracks, or the edges of vacant properties, but those are more abandoned than disturbed. In this spot, there were so few plants I suspect birds might have dropped the seeds. However it happened, the plants didn’t seem disturbed to find themselves growing there.

  2. Birth, or improved growth, from death. One of my favorite wet meadows experiences prescribed hogging every autumn which keeps the trees down and the wild orchids up. There are some nice layers happening here too, Linda.

    1. Mowing’s one of the techniques that’s used around here, too. Over time, I’ve grown more confident that the people who are in charge of such things know what they’re doing — at least, in the refuges and such. Just this spring, I discovered a field at Brazoria mown to the ground, and feared the flowers I’d been waiting for wouldn’t appear. Not to worry — two months later, there they were, and more than I’d ever seen.

      I was so taken with these sunflowers. I thought all that dead wood behind them made for a nice background, too.

  3. Child flowers found a whimsical jungle gym?
    Those branches and flowers remind me of some elderly grandmothers with bony fingers sporting massive brilliant rings.
    Lovely photo (There’s a nice stand of them at the back of Rosa’s parking lot – rivaling some shrubby trees in height…or come to think of it, maybe those are scaffolding opportunists, too)

      1. Isn’t it delightful, how each of us sees such different things in the same image? And of course, as soon as phil suggested old-lady-with-rings, I saw it. Maybe as eyes get older, sparkly needs to get bigger and brighter, so we can see it.

    1. The jungle gym’s a great image. As for those giant rings: who hasn’t seen the sight, and smiled? At least in this case, nature had the good sense not to pile on the decoration.

      There’s another good stand by the old shrimp boat harbor near the Kemah bridge; they must be nine feet tall. They’re growing on what I think must be old dredge material: which means hills, which means the county mowers leave them alone. I found the biggest, thickest, and tallest stand of basket-flowers I’ve ever seen near Hillman’s Marine. Again, it’s an area no tourist ever would set foot in except by accident, so it gets left alone.

        1. At least the sunflowers, ruellia and lantana seem happy — as do my cacti. They’re out there on the concrete basking away, and relishing the more frequent waterings they’re getting.

    1. It does, indeed. Of course, prescribed burns have the advantage of being limited and controlled, unlike what’s going on in California just now. Still, even in extreme circumstances, nature does recover, and sometimes more quickly than I’d ever imagined.

      When I go down to the refuge, I drive past the section whose burn I documented a year or so ago. Now? It’s filled with little bluestem, Indian grass, silver bluestem, and other grasses I can’t identify, as well as a few flowers. I need to wade into it once the weather cools a bit, and see what else I can find.

      1. It’s fascinating to visit a burned area after the fire and see the remarkable amount of plant life that begins to establish itself almost immediately after the fire is out.

        1. Indeed it is. I had more opportunities than I’d expected this year, since there were some spring and fall burns. I’m eager to see how things look on Nash prairie this fall. If we can get some rain, it might be very nice.

  4. I like the contrast between the green and yellow of the sunflowers against the grey and black of the burned bark. They really stand out against the almost monochromatic background.

    1. I liked that contrast, too. The fact that they were at the edge of a large burned area meant that the black and gray limbs extended for quite a distance behind them, allowing for that plainer background. I thought it was interesting that, despite the busyness of so many limbs, they ended up being not at all distracting.

    1. I’m used to seeing sunflowers standing straight, and more or less tall (although I see there’s at least one variety that tends to stay closer to the ground). I don’t remember ever seeing something like this. They aren’t really vining — there aren’t any tendrils, or such — but they’re definitely leggy. I’ve wondered whether they might have outgrown themselves; those thin, curving stems are unusual.

      Of course, sunflowers may do this all the time, and I just haven’t noticed. I’m glad I noticed these.

      1. What I remember is that one summer we had a real veritable wall of sunflowers at our old place down in Karnes County – kind of a sunflower jungle. That was one year only, though. I other years we did have sunflowers, but never that many.

        1. When sunflowers decide to put on a show, they really can do it. I’m glad you got to experience it. I still forget from time to time that the “where” and “when” of wildflowers blooming is difficult to predict.

          1. They’re quite unpredictable, wildflowers are. But it’s all the more surprising and exciting then to see them pop up.

  5. Very attractive. I wonder if among the lower sunflowers these sunflowers, taking advantage of opportunity, are regarded as social climbers, or upwardly mobile members of the sunflower family.

    1. Upwardly mobile they were — and more than willing to climb over and around the branches that surrounded them.

      The middle sunflower intrigues me the most. Even at the time, I wondered whether the vertical branch behind it was in front of the flower’s stem, or behind. I suspect the branch is between us as viewers and the stem, supporting the flower. I pondered wading in to answer my own question, but the more I looked at the thicket of branches and vines, the more convinced I became that some things in life should remain mysteries.

  6. The contrasts are lovely. I found a tiny sunflower beginning in my back yard this week, probably from the bird seed from the previous occupants, and I carefully put some rocks around it, to give it a better chance of survival. At least it’s near to the Hills Hoist. Given that the backyard tends to be a building site with the rear renovations, anything that survives has to be lucky! Some random nasturtiums ran out of luck…..

    1. Isn’t it fun to find volunteers? I call them accidental gardens. The ones that tickle me the most are the ones that insist on popping up in the obsessively manicured lawns around the yacht clubs. Asters growing through the bulkheads, oxalis in sidewalk cracks, evening primrose managing to stay beneath the mower levels — they just won’t be denied their place in the sun.

      I can’t remember seeing nasturtiums here. It may be that they prefer cooler weather, or are just out of fashion. Or, they may be hidden away in private gardens, but are too touchy for public landscaping. In any case — RIP your little pretties!

  7. Like giant brown-eyed susans, both flowers are contagiously cheerful. It’s a great shot, with the black iron trellises. I’ve enjoyed everyone’s comments here, too.

    1. I love the brown-eyed Susans, too. Do you have coreopsis? That’s another flower that always makes me smile. In a good year, it lives up to its name of “golden wave.’ This past spring, the flowers were so thick on Galveston Island there just wasn’t any way to capture all their gloriosity in a photo — at least, I couldn’t.

      If I had a garden, I’d have a wrought iron trellis. I think good iron work’s a beautiful accent. I suppose that’s why I like this photo as much for the black branches as for the flowers.

      1. I’ve seen the cultivated kind of coreopsis im gardens, but not in the fields. I looked it up, and it grows wild down on Long Island, but not around here. Sounds like Galveston Island was quite a sight.
        There’s iron gates around NYS by a Rochester artist, Albert Paley, he’d be the guy to make an iron trellis []

        1. Those gates are beautiful. Some are a little busy for my taste, but there are several that really appeal (like the Renwick portal gate. On the other hand, the middle gate in the top row looks a good bit like a certain kind of wooden fence I see around the hill country. Very nice — as are the small models.

          I have a feeling by the time he got done with a trellis, you wouldn’t want flowers vining over it and obscuring the details.

  8. Nature is so resilient if we’ll just get out of her way. Love how these sunflowers have wrapped themselves around these charred twigs, kind of like they’re saying, “See, beauty exists everywhere! You just need to keep your eyes open.” And we’re all grateful that you do, Linda!

    1. Little by little, I’m discovering that my favorite use of a camera is just that: discovery. There’s no question that I notice more than I used to, and I’m much more aware of the little oddities that seem to be everywhere in the world. Of course, the fact that we call them oddities probably says more about us than about them! I do love sharing these little bits of the world — I’m so glad you like them!

  9. Vibrant colors. It’d be great if humans had this same adaptability. No regrets nor judgements, simply moving on like they do.

    1. I think there’s more adaptability among humans than we sometimes realize. I suspect part of the reason is that the ones who don’t adapt get the publicity — for one reason or another. The flexible, adaptive ones just go about their business, like these sunflowers, until someone notices what they’re up to and says, “Hey! Look at that.”

      1. That’s true. The adaptive ones are already on the trellis by virtue of humility and hard work, while the nonadaptive are too busy being judgmental.

          1. Oh, everyone has judgements or better said, opinions about most everything. However, it is an art to continue one’s business despite it all.

    1. You’re not alone, Tom. A little twinge here, a bit of a twist there, and we all start pondering the passage of time. Keeping alert for life’s little trellises can be beneficial — as the sunflowers learned.

    1. One thing I’ve come to appreciate about what’s left after a controlled burn is how much usually-hidden structure’s revealed. It’s like seeing trees in wintertime. In both cases, if you happen to spot a bird in the bare branches, it’s — well, lagniappe!

  10. That really is a wispy and unique sunflower! It must have an artist’s spirit; perhaps it wished to add color to the blackened skeleton, or maybe it wanted to scamper (?) skyward and used it as a ladder to get closer to the sky.. it appears to have reached a higher level than its own stalks could support, but actually it looks like its own neighbors/support have been removed, and it was left standing alone.

    It’s a lovely image, and by reading the comments, one that prompted many to use their own creative interpretations!

    1. If I’d seen this in September, my first thought might have been swamp sunflower. They tend to be leggier, and will sprawl a good bit. But this was mid-June, and from what I could tell the plants had the leaves of what a friend calls “just sunflowers” — our common sunflower. As I mentioned to Gallivanta, I considered wading in for a better look, but these were farther off the road than they seem — I had to use my telephoto lens as it was.

      They certainly did catch my eye. I was glad for decent skies behind them, despite the haze.

      1. “Make note to self: pack waders when on a photo outing!’ — Good to see you before logging off. Your justu-published post is on the screen with about thirty other open windows! ha, some of it is research about recent birds! logging off until the end of the week!

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