Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for August 2nd, 2021

Two kinds of sunflowers in one morning

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I’ve never seen as many “common” sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) still flowering at the beginning of August as I have this year. Maybe it’s a consequence of the sustained freeze we endured back in February. Whatever the reason, as I drive around town now groups of those sunflowers seem to be everywhere. The picture above shows one flower head at a pond on Kulmbacher Dr. in far north Austin on the morning of July 31st. A little earlier that day I’d seen my first Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) of the year at the corner of FM 1325 and Shoreline Drive, as shown below. Those typically fall-blooming sunflowers are a sign that despite the lingering of the common sunflowers botanical autumn is at hand.

In 1597, herbalist John Gerard commented: “The Indian Sun or golden floure of Peru is a plant of such stature and talnesse that in one Sommer being sowne of a seede in Aprill, it hath risen up to… fourteene foot in my garden, one floure was in weight three pound and two ounces, and crosse overthwart the floure by measure sixteene inches broad.”

From the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 we have this: “Along the bottoms, which have a covering of high grass, we observe the sunflower blooming in great abundance. The Indians of the Missouri, and more especially those who do not cultivate maize, make great use of the seed of this plant for bread or in thickening their soup. They first parch and then pound it between two stones until it is reduced to a fine meal. Sometimes they add a portion of water, and drink it thus diluted: at other times they add a sufficient proportion of marrow grease to reduce it to the consistency of common dough and eat it in that manner. This last composition we preferred to all the rest, and thought it at that time a very palatable dish.”

And in the 1899 book The English Flower Garden, W. Robinson wrote: “It is true that not a few of this genus [Helianthus] are coarse and weedy… All the larger kinds are noble plants.” For me they’re all noble plants.

(I’ve interrupted the Portraits from Our Yard series for one day and will do so again periodically to keep you up to date with current botanical developments.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 2, 2021 at 4:29 AM

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