Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Strangeness on the back of a sunflower

with 28 comments

Sunflower Flower Head with Leaf Growing Out of Back 6557

Click for greater clarity.

When I browsed one margin of the construction site on the east side of US 183 adjacent to Costco and Wendy’s on June 24th, I found the head of a sunflower, Helianthus annuus, that was strange: out of the back of it grew a leaf where I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a leaf on a sunflower. Maybe “my experience was limited and underfed”*, or maybe this really was unusual.


* Bob Dylan, “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 15, 2013 at 6:20 AM

28 Responses

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  1. Sublime comme d’habitude, c’est amusant car j’ai pris le premier tournesol qui s’est ouvert, hier soir mais rien à voir avec ta photo. Ils seront petits cette année avec le mauvais temps que nous avons eu ce printemps.
    belle journée Steve


    July 15, 2013 at 6:55 AM

    • Il pleut ici à ce moment et l’on en est content parce qu’il y a eu peu de pluie cette année. Belle journée et beaux tournesols, Chantal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 15, 2013 at 7:03 AM

  2. Another great shot of a sunflower! That leaf is quite unique, I think. I can’t remember seeing one growing there on any sunflowers on the farm when I was there. Nice capture!!


    July 15, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    • Thanks, Steve. I wish I were enough of a botanist to know if the leaf really was unusual or if I just haven’t been paying enough attention.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 15, 2013 at 10:29 AM

  3. That is strange, but I find a lot of variation in this family of plants.


    July 15, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    • You’re right, Melissa, there is a lot of variation. I’d like to find out if this is within the “normal” range of variation or if it’s really rare.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 15, 2013 at 10:31 AM

  4. That is odd. An evolution of sorts perhaps?


    July 15, 2013 at 12:36 PM

  5. Beautiful lighting Steve!

    Michael Glover

    July 15, 2013 at 5:19 PM

  6. I wonder if it’s a genetic abnormality, like a yellow cardinal, two-headed calves or even your white squirrel. It’s much easier to spot those variations, of course. Maybe I could aid science by finding a colony of sunflowers and spending my day looking for mis-placed leaves.


    July 17, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    • I haven’t done any intentional looking for abnormal leaves on the back of a sunflower, but I sure have seen a lot of backs of sunflowers, so my observations over the years constitute an informal survey—or maybe mean I’ve been inattentive and have missed other instances of a misplaced leaf. Your suggestion of a genetic abnormality is plausible. Maybe I should go back, assuming the plant is still there, and see if there are any more abnormalities like this one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2013 at 1:45 PM

      • Whatever the explanation, at least your strange flower has a friend. I was working my way through photos from the Rockport cemetery tonight, and found this. I didn’t notice the oddity at the time, but I certainly laughed when I discovered it tonight. I’m fairly sure the sunflower is Helianthus debilis. They’re spring bloomers, and seem to be fairly common along the coast.

        It’s interesting that both abnormalities were found on sunflowers. Maybe there is something in their genetic makeup that expresses itself that way. If we find a third, we’ll have a real pattern.


        April 14, 2019 at 10:05 PM

        • You have a good memory, as it’s been 6 years since this precursor. I’ve not seen another instance of a misplaced leaf like this one on the back of a sunflower. The Helianthus debilis is a species we also have in Austin but one I don’t often see, at least not knowingly. One occurrence of it that I showed here was similar to your linked photo in that something was out of place, but it was a ray flower. In contrast to the strange leaf on the back, this is something I often see, presumably the doings of a spider.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 15, 2019 at 5:31 AM

  7. Very nice photo. The leaf is a bit strange. Then again, the more one pays attention to the details of plants the more oddities one sees. I had cone flowers last year in which the centers, which would normally become seeds, began to sprout and grow small plants. It was strange looking. Somewhere I must have some photos of that.


    July 19, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    • It’s good to hear from a fellow enjoyer of strangeness (as in those cone flowers you described). Your comment that “the more one pays attention to the details of plants the more oddities one sees” makes me think that oddities may be the norm.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 19, 2013 at 12:18 PM

  8. Maybe it was using solar power to go green. 😉

    Miki Kuwabara Photography

    August 21, 2013 at 8:46 PM

  9. […] Yesterday’s picture of a Maximilian sunflower, Helianthus maximiliani, at the Elisabet Ney Museum on August 28th might have made you think the plant could just as well have been a common sunflower, Helianthus annuus. One difference, as you see here, is all the long, slender, and oh-so-gradually tapering bracts beneath the head of a Maximilian sunflower. In contrast, the common sunflower has wide, relatively flat bracts that suddenly narrow only near their tips, something you can confirm in a picture posted here last year. […]

  10. Your photos are always so clear, so I am always slightly bemused when you say click on the photo for greater clarity! I click anyway.


    September 13, 2014 at 6:51 AM

    • It’s a quirk of WordPress that the photos as they appear on the main blog page are compressed or altered in a way that makes them look less sharp than they are. When you click you don’t always get a larger image, but at least you get one that’s as sharp as you can expect from the half-megapixel images I post. (Many photographers put up smaller images online because they’re worried about other people pirating them.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 13, 2014 at 7:29 AM

  11. It’s not quite as leaf-like as your strange leaf, but this feature I found today on the back of a Helianthus annuus does seem a bit unusual. One advantage of photographing in a cemetery is that it’s possible to pinpoint where particular flowers were found. If I can shake loose later this week, I’ll go back down and see if the growth has become larger and more leaf-like.


    May 29, 2016 at 8:47 PM

    • It looks like one of the bracts took on a will of its own to keep on growing, and it does seem more leaf-like than the other bracts. I hope you make it back there so we can find out what the became of the errant segment. On the other side of the stalk there appears to be spittlebug spittle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 30, 2016 at 12:17 AM

  12. […] extra leaf that’s sprouted on the underside of the bloom. In July of 2013, Steve Schwartzman posted a photo of a similar phenomenon, noting that he’d never before seen such a thing. Now, after nearly […]

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