Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

How do Maximilian sunflowers differ from common sunflowers?

with 12 comments

Maximilian Sunflower Head from Behind 5343

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.

The background in today’s picture looks dark because I set the camera’s aperture to be small enough (f/14, for good depth of field) and the shutter speed to be fast enough (1/400 sec., to stop movement) that even the clear blue sky wasn’t bright enough to register well on the camera’s sensor with those settings. The same would have been true for the sunflower but I illuminated it with a flash, which of course had no effect on the sky.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 13, 2014 at 5:44 AM

12 Responses

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  1. I need to fiddle more with the settings on my camera and see what I can do. However there are many things I need to do, which remain undone.


    September 13, 2014 at 6:54 AM

  2. I see the difference clearly. Are the flower sizes similar?

    Jim in IA

    September 13, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    • Yes, the flower sizes are similar, at least if you disallow cultivated specimens of H. annuus, which have been bred over the centuries to have huge heads with large seeds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 13, 2014 at 7:36 AM

  3. These bracts are much more interesting…not that the flowers give a hoot…than the neater and more evenly arranged Common Sunflower bracts, to my mind at any rate. Maybe it is just the lighting, but the Common Sunflower also seems to have a hairier stem than the Maximilian.
    I like the effect you’ve created with your flash. Although the sky does seem a bit dark, the flower really pops off the screen.
    Maybe if you used a second off camera flash the sky would have been brighter. 😆

    Steve Gingold

    September 13, 2014 at 8:50 AM

    • I think you’re right about the common sunflower being generally hairier. The Maximilian sunflower plant also grows in a more erect way than the common sunflower, which often has branches that go out in various directions and give an impression of chaotic growth.

      Wink wink to your suggestion about a second off-camera flash brightening the sky. I’m reminded of the time the Beatles played Yankee Stadium. People way up in the stands kept taking flash pictures of the Beatles down in the infield, not realizing that a flash does no good whatsoever from hundreds of feet away.

      I’m glad you like the way the illuminated sunflower stands out against the unnaturally dark blue of the sky.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 13, 2014 at 12:43 PM

      • Yeah, you see that often at professional sporting events too. Someone deep in the bleacher seats tries to flash some guy trotting home 500 feet away after a home run.

        Steve Gingold

        September 13, 2014 at 1:58 PM

  4. When I looked at the linked photo of the sunflower with the leaf in an unexpected place, it called to mind your previous sunflower post, with the leaf extended out to the right. That leaf is so noticeable – do you remember if it was where it’s “supposed” to be, or was it also growing from the flower head?

    And here’s a coincidental tidbit. Last night I was digging in the dictionaries, trying to determine if I could use the word thrum as I intended. In the Merriam-Webster, I found these definitions, among others.

    (1) a fringe of warp threads left on the loom after the cloth has been removed; one of these warp threads
    (2) a tuft or short piece of rope yarn used in thrumming canvas —usually used in plural
    (3) a hair, fiber, or threadlike leaf on a plant; also, a tuft or fringe of such structures

    Both the bracts up above and the various examples of hairiness mentioned seem to qualify perfectly well as “thrum”. Here’s another entry that’s a bit more expansive. I was interested to see a nautical reference as well — I’ve never heard the word in that context, either.


    September 14, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    • As far as I recall, the leaf in the previous photograph of the Maximilian sunflower was normal and didn’t emanate from the back of the flower head. I think if it had been strange I would have noticed it, though I’ve often assumed that a lot of things must escape me.

      If you’re musically inclined, you can write a song about thrums and thrum away on a guitar as you sing it. (Okay, so the two thrums are different words, but we’ll overlook that.)

      So much depends on our associations. When I read your definition (2) above, I thought about an artist’s canvas, but your link at the end makes clear that the canvas in question is nautical. (Thanks for the intro to enacademic.com, which I’ve bookmarked.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 14, 2014 at 9:53 AM

  5. Stunning. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    September 14, 2014 at 3:22 PM

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