Another mood-lifter from commentor Mike S (Now with a Democratic Congressperson!):
One of my friends, a professional photographer of gardens, once told me that entering a photograph of back of a sunflower is a sure way to win a prize in a photography contest. So, even though I don’t enter contests I do find myself taking a lot of pictures of sunflowers.
I also have several wild-type species of the perennial persuasion in our garden and I would like to share three of my favorites to celebrate the returning of the sun.
North America is the original home for what are called the “true” sunflowers in the genus Helianthus, including the two most widely known species that are in widespread cultivation. The best known is annual sunflower of birdseed and vegetable oil fame (Helianthus annuus) whose wild ancestors were from the Western USA. The other is the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) which is a perennial known for taking over gardens.
Today we have two “true” sunflowers and one close cousin that looks very similar and all are native to the Eastern USA.
First is Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus) a.k.a. Thick-leaved sunflower. This is a spreading species that grows to about 5 feet tall and attracts lots of bees and butterflies to its flowers.
As a bonus the seeds are very popular with American Goldfinches and I have to race them if I want to collect seed for propagation.
Second is Tall Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus) a.k.a. Swamp Sunflower, which live up to its names. This species normally grows 8 to 12 feet tall and has very woody stems, but this also is a perennial and dies back to the ground in winter and grows new stems each year. It’s a clump forming species it only spreads by seed not by roots or rhizomes.
It does well in most any kind of garden soil here in the moist area where we garden in Southeastern PA and doesn’t need swampy soil, but it doesn’t mind it. The seeds are smaller than the pale-leaved sunflower’s but goldfinches devour them as well!
The third species is a cousin with a very sunny scientific name, Heliopsis helianthoides, which more or less means a sunflower which looks like a true sunflower! The common names are Ox-eye, Ox-eye sunflower or smooth oxeye. It grows to about 5 or six feet tall and spreads modestly. It’s showy and popular in wildflower seed mixes.
It isn’t appreciated by birds as much but it is a reliable garden plant the butterflies do visit. Although we grow this lovely flower in our garden, the picture with the Aphrodite Fritillary butterfly isn’t from our garden, It was taken in the garden at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary about 30 miles north of our house where my wife and I are garden volunteers and also help with that famous hawk and eagle migration spot’s native plant sale.
What’s going on in your garden (planning / prep / tropical / retrospectives), this week?