Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

And here’s a look at those Maximilian sunflowers in their own right

with 40 comments


Behold some Helianthus maximiliani along the North Walnut Creek Trail on July 24th. A couple of nearby Maximilian sunflower flower heads played the role of the golden glow behind the bluebell in yesterday’s portrait. I’ll repeat what I mentioned in a comment: I’d already found some Maximilian sunflowers blossoming along this trail on June 21st, a good two months before even the earliest part of their traditional bloom period. Let me add that last year in my neighborhood I found one of these plants flowering on May 5th. Regardless of the season, Maximilian sunflowers always strike me as cheerful.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2017 at 4:53 AM

40 Responses

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  1. Because I am reading this at night, the bright yellow trio made me think of brilliant stars……and a favourite old rhyme: Star light, star bright,
    First star I see tonight,
    I wish I may, I wish I might,
    Have this wish I wish tonight.


    July 26, 2017 at 5:26 AM

    • And now it’s dark here, though not for much longer.

      According to the article at


      “Wishing on the first star seen may also predate this rhyme, which first began to be recorded in late nineteenth-century America… The song and tradition seem to have reached Britain by the early twentieth century and have since spread worldwide.”

      It seems, then, that you indirectly got it from us. I’m surprised that the rhyme isn’t attested before the late nineteenth century.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 5:47 AM

      • I am always surprised at how much American influence there was in our supposedly very British Colonial upbringing.


        July 27, 2017 at 12:39 AM

        • And perhaps appalled at how much American influence there has been since then.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 27, 2017 at 6:56 AM

          • Perhaps; I think we have always been heavily influenced by the US but we just don’t like to admit it. A lot of the influence has been to the good…eg Carnegie and Jonas Salk, Bill Gates….it’s a long list.


            July 29, 2017 at 11:53 PM

            • Don’t know if I ever mentioned to you that Jonas Salk was in the same school class in New York as my father. I can’t remember now whether that was in Townsend Harris High School or City College of New York or both.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 30, 2017 at 7:11 AM

              • I don’t recall that you mentioned this connection before. It’s a good one. I don’t know when I first heard the name Jonas Salk but I do remember my parents’ relief/ joy that a polio vaccine was available for us. If we protested about any vaccinations, injections, etc we were told in no uncertain terms how lucky we were to have them.


                July 30, 2017 at 8:33 AM

                • In recent years there’s been some brouhaha over the claim that vaccines can cause autism, though apparently no scientific study has corroborated that.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2017 at 9:10 AM

                • Yes, a brouhaha…..but for my generation and for my parents those vaccinations were life savers …..in fact once we got over our fear of the huge needles and other odd equipment, we wore our vaccination marks like battle scars. At school we liked to check who had the biggest small pox vaccination scar.


                  July 30, 2017 at 6:36 PM

  2. This is a particularly entrancing photo. Love the counterpoint of the two sunflowers sans petals in the second row.

    Susan Scheid

    July 26, 2017 at 6:27 AM

    • Speaking of the second row, are you as fascinated as I am by the characteristic tentacle-like green bracts that scraggle out from behind the flower heads? It’s not clear to me whether those two flower heads aren’t going to make it or whether they’ve developed and already lost their yellow rays.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 6:38 AM

      • Yes, I was particularly taken with them. I thought probably the petals had dropped off, but wasn’t the least bit sure of that.

        Susan Scheid

        July 26, 2017 at 6:45 AM

        • The things I see in nature raise many more questions than I have any hope of finding quick or even any answers to—but then I can say that about people, too.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 26, 2017 at 6:54 AM

  3. I wonder if this is an attractive mutation – I thought at first the top ones were buds then after a closer look, decided they are seed heads.


    July 26, 2017 at 7:02 AM

    • And I entertained the possibility that the top ones were flower heads that had started to open but for whatever reason didn’t make it and were now dying off and drying out. I’ve seen that happen to flowers elsewhere. Still, I think you’re probably right that the top heads are just more advanced than the one at the right of the main row, which is in the process of going to seed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 7:10 AM

  4. I was struck by those bracts, too, and was also trying to decide whether those blooms were already done. All in all, a very satisfying photo. Good ol’ Max. Mine are in bloom now, and for once they are standing upright as there are enough other things growing in there with them to hold them up. Cup Plant is wonderfully structural for this purpose. I also use it to prop up my culver’s root. There is a walnut tree in there now, planted by a squirrel. I am interested to see how that changes the dynamic once it gets a little bigger. It is about 6′ now.


    July 26, 2017 at 8:37 AM

    • “Good ol’ Max” describes my feelings, too. I look forward to these sunflowers each time we approach fall; this year and last year I didn’t have to wait that long, though the peak is still at least two months ahead. I’m surprised that yours are already flowering so far north. And yes, I’ve seen plenty of tall Maximilians unable to support themselves that lean at various angles. Sometimes even the ones that can stand erect yield temporarily to the wind:


      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 1:46 PM

      • Flopping over is a common trait among native flowers, I’ve noticed. I think it might have to do with depositing seed a distance from the mother plant. When I was dabbling in garden design and wanted to use native plants it was a real problem. Also, I found, in garden situations they get taller than in the wild, probably because the soil is so much better.


        July 28, 2017 at 7:30 AM

        • It never occurred to me that the flopping over of a plant might be a way to get its seed farther away from its base. When it comes to Maximilian sunflowers, at least here in central Texas, I’ve seen some pretty tall ones, occasionally approaching 10 ft., so I have trouble imagining even taller ones in a garden. Do you have a sense of the tallest ones you’ve seen in the wild up north where you are?

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2017 at 8:27 AM

          • I haven’t measured them but 10′ seems about right. I didn’t plant them~they invited themselves to my party. But several other species that I did plant are extremely tall in the garden. My meadow rue is about 6′ tall, for example.


            July 30, 2017 at 7:26 AM

            • I’m not familiar with meadow rue, but I take it 6 ft. is taller than that plant normally gets in the wild. I expect you don’t rue that extra height in your garden.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 30, 2017 at 7:31 AM

              • No indeed. It has an attractive upright growth habit, with lacy leaves and delicate flowers. In the field it is usually no more than 3′ and only a few stems. Mine has formed an enormous clump.


                August 2, 2017 at 8:47 AM

  5. Very appealing. I really like the curly sepals (is that the right term?) Van Gogh would have loved these.

    Robert Parker Teel

    July 26, 2017 at 8:46 AM

    • The slender, curly segments are bracts, which is to say modified leaves. In the sunflower family the bracts around the flower head get a special name: phyllaries. As many cultivated common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) as Van Gogh saw, I doubt he ever saw a Maximilian sunflower. I wish he had and had painted it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 1:39 PM

  6. They look really nice. I need to see if I can find some hereabouts.


    July 26, 2017 at 9:07 AM

    • The USDA map marks this species for Gillespie County. You have slightly cooler weather than we do in Austin, so whether the Maximilians there are blooming this early is another question. Even for Austin these sunflowers are early, with the peak not usually occurring till October.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 1:29 PM

  7. Now for a totally different view of the foreground sunflowers–the Three Stooges in eye-poke and other face-assaulting snapshots! Consider the background pre-blooms as bystanders. View


    https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/474x/bc/17/61/bc1761d9927bb61299350e7c9b03bbe3–moe-howard-the-three-stooges.jpg, and

    https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/fa/93/61/fa93613c1ee972e0ae5cce9faaafca72–moe-howard-shorts.jpg. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.


    July 26, 2017 at 10:53 AM

    • You’ve got a great imagination, Wanda. Thanks for letting us see your visions. I’d anthropomorphized a little about the middle sunflower, but I’d never have extrapolated to the Three Stooges.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 1:50 PM

  8. It’s great to see the sunflowers step from the background to the foreground; they seem to have multiple-personality disorder!

    • You may be talking about the photographer, who at the very least has worn various metaphorical hats.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2017 at 3:42 PM

  9. They do look cheerful!


    July 26, 2017 at 8:07 PM

  10. The top two evoked the curly clematis that are going to seed here now: not yet fluffy, but full of shiny, tangled green tentacles.

    The group as a whole, so bright and crisp, evokes autumn, as well. I’m fond of all the sunflowers, but the Maximilians, somewhat casual and tousled, seem to have more personality than most. I’m always happy for their arrival. Lucky you, to be seeing them already!


    July 27, 2017 at 9:01 PM

    • I forgot: your post reminded me of something I read recently that made me laugh.

      The highest point in Kansas (4,039 feet above sea level) has been dubbed Mount Sunflower. The article I was reading said, “Some people would describe Mount Sunflower as a barely noticeable rise in the middle of a field on a ranch one-half mile from the Colorado border, but they would lack vision.”


      July 27, 2017 at 9:04 PM

      • That’s an excellent quotation. When I taught calculus, which among other things deals with maximum and minimum heights of curves, I mentioned to my students that the highest point in Florida is on the slope of a hill whose higher peak is across the border in an adjacent state.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 28, 2017 at 7:02 AM

    • By coincidence, a few days ago I came across two developing seed heads of a leatherflower vine. I don’t know which species it was, but I’m assuming Clematis texensis, the one with red flowers, because I occasionally see that in my part of town but almost never find the purple-flowered species. I also saw in a couple of places around town in the last few days the fluffy stage of the much more common Clematis drummondii; I made a mental note to go photograph some while the fluff is fresh.

      Let’s hope your Maximilians aren’t far behind.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2017 at 6:58 AM

  11. Are those the sepals that are so curly? I love that! This is a beauty; I’ve never seen it (way out of range I’m sure). I’m with Linda, above – sunflowers are wonderful in general, but these Maxies have an extra dose of personality!


    July 29, 2017 at 7:44 PM

  12. Oops – it’s bracts, not sepals, right?


    July 29, 2017 at 7:45 PM

    • You’re right in correcting yourself: those are indeed bracts. Their curly shape is another feature that quickly distinguishes this erect species of sunflowers from the bushier species of common sunflowers that most people are more familiar with. As for your getting to see some Maximilian sunflowers, you’re right that you’re out of range, but not by all that much. The USDA map has the species marked for exactly one county in Washingon, Klickitat County. I don’t know how common Maximilian sunflowers are there, but if you find yourself in that part of the state in the fall, you might luck out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2017 at 9:52 PM

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