Going, Going… But Not Gone

Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) mixed with native grasses

While such people may exist, I’ve yet to meet anyone who actively dislikes sunflowers. The willingness of common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) to put down roots almost anywhere — construction sites, vacant lots, rural fencelines — can bring a smile to the face of even the most determined curmudgeon.

But there are many versions of the sunflower, including three of my favorites: swamp sunflower (H. augustifolius), silver-leaf sunflower (H. argophyllus), and Maximilian, named for Prince Maximilian Alexander Philipp of Wied-Neuwied, a German explorer and naturalist who traveled through the United States in 1832–34.

Swamp and silver-leaf sunflowers prefer conditions farther south; Maximilians appear in my area, but erratically, and sometimes in the most unexpected places. When I noticed a patch of them decorating a narrow strip of land in Brazoria County, I stopped for a visit. Despite being well past the peak of their flowering, they were a delightful discovery.

Clustered blooms and height help to make them noticeable. Commonly four to six feet tall, and even taller where conditions are right, Maximilians are tough and adaptable. Their flowers appear late in the season, often blooming in tandem with goldenrod.

Occasionally, skyward-reaching stalks provide an interesting view of their slender, alternate leaves.

Gravity often pulls tall, flower-laden stalks down to the ground, but shorter stalks will lean as well, even in the absence of wind.

Every sort of pollinator is attracted to them, especially butterflies. Here, a Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) pauses for a sip of nectar.

A special treat was finding a new example of a favorite autumn color combination in the field. Here, purple bindweed (Ipomoea cordatotriloba) clambers up a Maximilian stem, showing off its leaves in the process. 

Since I discovered this colony, winds associated with cold and warm fronts have been strong. Whether the sunflowers will be going strong when I next pass by is hard to say, but I suspect that they won’t be gone.

Comments always are welcome.

 

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.

 

Wading Into Spring

Black-necked stilt ~ Himantopus mexicanus

 

An elegant addition to the wetland scene, this stilt seemed less interested in foraging than in simply enjoying the sunshine and warmth as it walked across the flats at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge.

Like the American Avocet, stilts belong to the family Recurvirostridae, a Latin term meaning “bent bill.”  With legs longer in proportion to their bodies than any bird other than the flamingo, they’re made for walking; their partially webbed feet allow them to swim, but they rarely do.

Increasing numbers of these birds are beginning to appear in our wetlands to court, mate, and raise their families. Their elegant appearance and entertaining behavior ensure that you’ll be seeing more of them.

 

Comments always are welcome.