Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Maximilian sunflower time

with 27 comments

As September approached its end, erect stalks of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) became an increasingly common sight in central Texas. In a field along TX 71 in Spicewood on October 3rd I took advantage of the morning’s wispy clouds to photograph a good stand of those sunflowers. The maximum Maximilian in the field towered over me and could well have climbed above 10 ft. (3m):

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 12, 2021 at 4:29 AM

27 Responses

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  1. You certainly found that sweet spot between clear blue skies and too-cloudy-to-be-pretty. That tall plant’s quite a sight: nothing like achieving full potential, even for a plant!


    October 12, 2021 at 5:39 AM

    • We hadn’t been having many wispy clouds over Austin, so no way was I going to pass up the chance to use them. You can call these Maximilians cirrus im-plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 12, 2021 at 5:47 AM

  2. Great shot with the feathery clouds, gives it a nice celebratory feeling. I haven’t seen a lot of the Texas wildflowers you display here, but this one thrives in the north too, I see it in NY, PA, WI, etc.

    Robert Parker

    October 12, 2021 at 6:35 AM

    • I’m always happy to celebrate Maximilian sunflowers (of which I took some more pictures yesterday). As you said, this species has a broad distribution across North America, even into Canada:
      You’re ahead of me in having seen it in New York, which I never (consciously) did when I lived there a long time ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 12, 2021 at 6:43 AM

  3. Those are striking photos of the flowers against a backdrop of blue marbled with cirrus. That is one tall sunflower at 10 feet, right up there with Russian Mammoth.

    Lavinia Ross

    October 12, 2021 at 8:59 AM

  4. In comparison to the common garden variety, these sunflowers have small heads but their height is amazing. The stems must be very sturdy or else they would topple over. I like the sky with the wispy clouds in the background.

    Peter Klopp

    October 12, 2021 at 9:08 AM

    • I suspect you’re thinking about the varieties of Helianthus annuus, the so-called common sunflower, that have been bred over the centuries to have very large heads—the kind Van Gogh painted, for example. The flower heads on Helianthus annuus plants that grow wild in North America (including Austin), as they always have, exhibit flower heads up to about 4 inches (10 cm) across. For Maximilian sunflowers, the field guides that I just checked report that the flower heads grow to 2.5 or 3 inches across. That makes them on average smaller than those of the common sunflower, but not small in absolute terms.

      We hadn’t had wispy clouds here for a while, so I was glad to see them that morning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 12, 2021 at 9:32 AM

      • Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to explain the difference between the wild and garden varieties among the sunflowers!

        Peter Klopp

        October 12, 2021 at 12:50 PM

  5. That blue sky and beautiful yellow sunflowers are so cheerful!


    October 12, 2021 at 11:13 AM

    • Cheerful indeed. Maximilian sunflowers are a fall delight here, one to look forward to as every long, hot summer approaches its end.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 12, 2021 at 11:18 AM

      • Summer’s over and Fall too here! At least this week. It snowed in the mountains all week-end into Monday and we even had a bit in the valley. This morning it was 23 degrees when I got up. Brrr! The mountains are gorgeous though all covered in snow.

        Fall leaves and flowers may pay the price though.


        October 12, 2021 at 11:20 AM

        • Yes, fall’s over up there. Sorry you’re already paying the price. As you know, things down here are so different. High afternoon temperatures into the 90s continued through last week. We’re approaching (or may be at) our fall wildflower peak, one example of which you see in the Maximilian sunflower photographs.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 12, 2021 at 12:06 PM

  6. LOVE the bright blue sky behind them! 🙂 Great shots

    M.B. Henry

    October 12, 2021 at 2:19 PM

    • I often have clear blue sky as a background, so when I can add wispy clouds into the mix, so much the better.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 12, 2021 at 2:30 PM

      • It looks great! 🙂 A perfect photography sky!

        M.B. Henry

        October 12, 2021 at 2:31 PM

        • Amen to that. Lately we seem to have had less than our customary amount of cirrus clouds, for whatever reason. Let’s hope we get back to our average.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 12, 2021 at 2:34 PM

  7. The clouds really enhanced the shot!

    Eliza Waters

    October 12, 2021 at 4:45 PM

  8. The clouds in that first shot were a gift from Mother Nature. Great backdrop for the sunflowers.

    Steve Gingold

    October 12, 2021 at 5:06 PM

    • We’d driven about 45 minutes to check out a farmer’s market. We came home with veggies and dips, and I with some yummy pictures from the ride home.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 12, 2021 at 5:08 PM

  9. Wow, that Maximilian seems to think it’s a rocket – it really took it to the max! (And the clouds are perfect. 🙂 )

    Ann Mackay

    October 13, 2021 at 6:33 PM

    • Yes, you said it well: that Maximilian took it to the max.
      The feathery clouds added to the appeal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2021 at 6:35 PM

  10. The first image is really nice … what a great sky for these sunny subjects!


    October 18, 2021 at 1:18 PM

    • Maximilian sunflowers are at their peak here now. I only wish we’d kept getting wispy clouds like the ones we had that Sunday morning two weeks ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2021 at 2:17 PM

  11. […] much as we love to see the bright yellow of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) in the fall, something else loves those plants, too, although not in a […]

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