Those Serendipitous Sunflowers

Show all the blooms, but show them slant (with apologies to Emily Dickinson)

For weeks I chased Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) like a birder in hot pursuit of a rare species. Initially, I thought I’d found them at the Attwater refuge, but after both a friend and a member of the refuge staff persuaded me that my glorious find was swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), I knew I’d have to look farther.

One morning, in the process of just roaming around, I passed a patch of vibrant yellow leaning against a pasture fence.  Even at 60 mph, it seemed unusually substantial, so a mile down the road I turned around in a driveway and hustled back to the fence. My instincts had been right. The flowers were Maximilians: beginning to fade, but still glowing as they slanted into the rising light.

I’d always assumed Maximilians were a central-Texas-and-north flower, but I’d missed seeing that the USDA map suggested otherwise. I began looking more closely, and on a small patch of land less than a quarter mile from the Galveston/Brazoria county line, I found them again. Well on their way to forming seed, their little patch of land had escaped both public and private mowers.

As the day progressed, haze from burning fields obscured the morning’s pure blue skies, but added a certain delicacy to some of the images. Here are a few of my favorites from that unexpected encounter.

If one bloom is good, more can be better
A few clouds provide a pleasing background
When it comes to growth, horizontal does as well as vertical
Hazy skies and scattered grasses lend a delicate air
This feels as old-fashioned as my grandmother’s kitchen
A photo-bombing leaf? It’s odd, but I like it
An attractive combination of seed head and bloom
The plant’s graceful leaves deserve equal time
A late season treat for pollinators

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.