Make a Wish; It's Sunflower Season!

Happy Monday, iNatters and welcome to Sunflower Season!

Though Sunflowers are native to the Americas (woot woot!), they have been cultivated on nearly every continent for food, oil, medicines, dyes, and for religious and spiritual purposes. Their widespread use has earned them a rich and symbolic history. Most notably, sunflowers represent bounty, courage, growth, inspiration, and peace.

Wild sunflowers, however, can take on a different meaning, representing good fortune, vitality, and liberation. It is said that when you find a wild sunflower, you should make a wish; your wish will come true once it blooms! Good thing we’re still near the beginning of sunflower season! CVNP is home to nine species of sunflowers, if you count the false sunflower! Here are our four most common sunflowers:

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides):

Although this isn’t a member of the Helianthus (sunflower) genus, it belongs to the same plant family as sunflowers: Asteraceae (the aster, composite, daisy, or sunflower family). This is one of our earliest blooming “sunflowers”, beginning as early as June. We separate the False sunflower from the sunflower genus because their ray florets (or, the yellow petal-looking structures on the flower) are fertile. In Helianthus flowers, the ray florets are infertile, while the disc-florets (the very small, tubular structures in the center of the flower head) are the flower’s fertile structures (photos labeled below with disc and ray florets so that next time you're out, you'll know where to look on the flower!).


Photo credit: Christine Krol

Below are some photos labeled with disc and ray florets for reference next time you're out!

Left: A Giant sunflower (Helianthus giganteus) with a composite flower head of both disc and ray florets.
Middle: A Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) with a ligulate flower head with only ray florets.
Right: A Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) with a discoid flower head with only disc florets.
Photo credits: Patrick J. Alexander and Al Schneider; Edits: Mallory Klein

Woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus):

You’ll likely find this sunflower in dry woodland habitats, hence its name! While most sunflowers have rather hairy stems, Woodland sunflower has only a slightly rough stem. Its leaves are lance-shaped and oppositely positioned on the stem.


Photo credit: James L. Reveal, courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus):

The Jerusalem artichoke prefers moister soils and might even situate itself on roadsides. Jerusalem artichoke has alternate leaves and a fairly hairy stem.


Photo credit: Fred Losi

Stiff-hair sunflower (Helianthus hirsutus):

Like other sunflowers, the Stiff-hair sunflower has a rough, hairy stem. However, it also has hair on its leaves. Additionally, its leaves have smoother, less-toothed edges and are narrower in shape than other sunflowers. Similar to the Woodland sunflower, Stiff-hair sunflower leaves are oppositely positioned on the stem as well.


Photo credit: Sandy Smith, courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

CVNP’s other sunflower species include: Harsh sunflower (Helianthus strumosus), Pale sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus), Giant sunflower (Helianthus gigantieus), Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and Small woodland sunflower (Helianthus microcephalus).

We hope you all have a Happy Sunflower Season! Remember to make your wish and share your observations with us here on the project!

P.S. Leave those sunflowers for others to enjoy, too. Sunflowers are great for removing toxins from the soil, which means a happier and healthier park for us all!

Posted by mklein1216 mklein1216, July 20, 2020 18:30

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