Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A cheerfully floral asymmetry

with 28 comments

Maximilian Sunflower Flower Head Opening 1721

Another holdover from the latter part of 2015 was the Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), a few groups of which I photographed along US 183 in northwest Austin on January 12. I’ve mentioned that the flower heads of some members of the sunflower family tend to open asymmetrically, and here you’ve got another good example.

Since I took this picture and the one of the greenthread that you saw two days ago, the mowers have cut everything down.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 24, 2016 at 5:02 AM

28 Responses

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  1. Ah, another yellow! Asymmetrical looks perfect here.


    January 24, 2016 at 7:13 AM

  2. That asymmetric sunflower reminds me of Charlie Brown’s tree. http://www.clipartpal.com/_thumbs/pd/holiday/christmas/charlie_b_tree.png

    Jim Ruebush

    January 24, 2016 at 7:36 AM

  3. This just occurred to me. I’ve always assumed that something was encouraging these flower heads to put out some rays or disks ahead of the others. Today, I’m wondering whether something actually is retarding the opening of the less-developed rays and disks.

    What’s certain is that I like the asymmetry. Yesterday, I finally found some witch hazel. While its blooms are more random than asymmetrical, it had a bit of the same bad-hair-day look to it that this sunflower does. With any luck, I’ll get some nice photos of it today.


    January 24, 2016 at 9:01 AM

    • That’s a great insight, and a good example of the duality principle: something can’t be ahead unless something else is behind. Where causality comes in in this dual case is the question. My guess is that it’s like a very crowded elevator in which the people at the front have to step forward to make room for the people behind to move.

      Let’s hope you do get some good witch hazel pictures today. You’d be ahead of me on that score.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 24, 2016 at 9:16 AM

      • On second thought, the elevator may not be a good metaphor here, given that all the rays could have simultaneously unfettered access to the outside.

        Steve Schwartzman

        January 24, 2016 at 9:19 AM

  4. I’ve also often seen oxeye daisies and black-eyed susans as well as sunflowers open asymmetrically. I’ve also seen a few where the tardy rays never open. It seems a good subject to pursue.

    Steve Gingold

    January 24, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    • You’ve made me wonder to what extent botanists have researched the topic. I did a little searching but didn’t turn up anything specifically about this kind of asymmetry. I did find some technical articles (way too technical for me) dealing with genes that control the opening of flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 24, 2016 at 10:48 AM

      • Well, if it’s too technical for you, then I’d be at a loss.

        Steve Gingold

        January 24, 2016 at 11:29 AM

      • But the physics people and mathematicians are on the case. It’s a fascinating article, with some tantalizing hints that such research might someday apply to asymmetrical blooming.

        I especially liked the last paragraph: “… there’s a lot more to flowers than just their superficial appearance. ‘Infusing a scientific aesthetic into a thing of beauty only enhances our appreciation of it,’ Mahadevan says. ‘This is what we try to do as scientists.’”


        January 24, 2016 at 9:56 PM

        • That’s a good article you linked to. I’d already read that in vines the cells on the outside of a twining section grow faster than those on the inside, and the processes described in the Wired article seem to work similarly. (The name Mahadevan would seem to mean ‘great god’ in Sanskrit or an offshoot language; compare maharajah ‘great king’).

          I noticed at the bottom of that article a link to one about a fossil flower that appears to be an ancestor of the sunflower family:


          Steve Schwartzman

          January 25, 2016 at 2:01 AM

        • Great article link, Linda. The physics of flowering…..wondering if someone is noting the physics of the space zinnia.


          January 26, 2016 at 7:35 AM

          • I expect the astronauts are keeping detailed records to document the effects that zero gravity has on plants.

            Steve Schwartzman

            January 26, 2016 at 8:43 AM

  5. God! I love it! Perfection faith woot!


    January 25, 2016 at 8:39 AM

  6. A wonderful visual treat on this cold, gray, dreary day; your timing is perfect.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    January 25, 2016 at 10:08 AM

    • It brightens up the day here too because the sky is overcast, though at 62° now we’re not cool for January. I can see where the sunflower does more good for you in the Pacific Northwest.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 25, 2016 at 10:18 AM

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