From “Sunflower” in History of the World in 100 Plants by Simon Barnes:
“Sunflowers were cultivated in North America long before Columbus crossed the Atlantic. They were grown for food, but no doubt their dramatic appearance was part of the appeal. Certainly it was the look of the plant that prompted Europeans to take sunflowers back across the ocean. Once there sunflowers became a crop plant all over again, useful and humble. But now the plant is ineluctably associated with the cult of genius and the legend of the tormented artist.
“There are seventy species in the genus Helianthus, but it’s the cultivated species Helianthus annus that mostly concerns us here: the one with the flower-head that looks like the sun. It’s not technically a flower but an inflorescence. Each head comprises many individual flowers; each of the outer flowers, which most of us refer to as petals and a botanist calls ray heads, are in fact individual flowers. These outer flowers don’t do sex, being sterile: they are a come-hither signal to insect pollinators, which feed from the many tiny flowers arranged in cunning spirals on the central disc.”
“[Goldenrod] is as sturdy and as various as our population; there is delicate dwarf goldenrod, silver goldenrod, tall yellow goldenrod in a multitude of forms and shapes-spikes, plumes, and panicles of native gold….
“Descend into a bog and there, growing wild, is goldenrod; climb a mountain and there, between the crevices of boulders, is goldenrod; follow the shore of the sea and goldenrod gleams along the edge of the sands; drive along our highways from coast to coast in August and September and the fields and ditches are bright with goldenrod….
“The very ubiquity of the flower has given it a bad name as an irritant to hay-fever victims, but I’ve recently read that it is the ragweed and flowering grasses growing alongside goldenrod that are the villains during the late-summer hay-fever season. The goldenrod also has the great advantage… of owing nothing to man, of enriching no seed company, or companies, and of being as wild as our national bird, the eagle.”
“I see the sunflower’s broad disk now in gardens… a true sun among flowers, monarch of August. Do not the flowers of August and September generally resemble suns and stars? — sunflowers and asters and the single flowers of the goldenrod. I once saw one as big as a milk-pan, in which a mouse had its nest.”
This is the second of two posts with photos of sunflowers and goldenrod; the first post is Sunflowers and Goldenrod (1 of 2). For the photos in this post, I zoomed in on individual sunflowers or sprays of goldenrod — except for the three photos of a sunflower trio from behind (which are actually my favorites of this series).
As some interesting botanical info-bits:
Both the goldenrod plant and the sunflower plant are members of the Aster family Asteraceae. Sunflowers are in the Helianthus genus; goldenrod is mostly in the genus Solidago, but there are goldenrod varieties in other genuses also.
PlantNet identifies these sunflowers most consistently as Beach Sunflower or Plains Sunflower — sunflowers whose blooms are smaller than their more famous relative, the giant sunflower Helianthus annuus.
I first thought the photos were of either Black-eyed Susans or Brown-eyed Susans (see Black-Eyed and Brown-Eyed Susans (1 of 2); and Black-Eyed and Brown-Eyed Susans (2 of 2)). But while the flowers are similar in appearance (and the blooms about the size of Susan blooms), the form of the unopened buds, tall stems, and distinctly-shaped leaves give these away as sunflowers. And, unlike Susans, these tend to appear not in groups or clumps but — as you can see — as a single stem, or two or three stems.
Thanks for reading and taking a look!