Friday, August 20, 2010

Sunflower Haven

I spend a lot of time and energy bemoaning the weather and the soil and the harsh wind and the boiling sun and the general misery that is Kansas gardening. I'm also constantly envious of the plants that others can grow but which will just obstinately shrivel up and die here. But I'll be the first to admit that if you want to grow sunflowers well, come to the Flint Hills.

It isn't named "The Sunflower State," and the state flower isn't the sunflower for nothing, folks.  The Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses website ( lists 10 different sunflower species (Helianthus sp.) that are native to Kansas and the Flint Hills area. These fancifully named wildflowers, the Stiff Sunflower, the Hairy Sunflower, Sawtooth Sunflower or the Plains Sunflower, they all open up in August and provide 4-6 weeks of brilliant color to contrast sharply with the azure prairie sky until the birds pick the seeds off in October and use the energy burst to wisely head south. The most statuesque of these sunflowers is somewhat drably named the Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and it really is the most common species in my area.  It usually grows around six feet tall although it's listed as growing anywhere from two to eight feet tall, but if a wild seedling gets started in good cultivated soil with lots of organic matter, and if it's protected from weed competition and watered, it will try to take on the Beanstalk role from the children's fable and it will easily top twelve feet and have a stalk six inches in diameter (ask me how I know). 

The group of Common Sunflowers at the right was taken at the end of our lane at peak bloom time.  As I turn onto Prairie Star Drive coming home from a weary day of  work, this is the picture that greets me home in late August and early September. So take that, rest of the world, you may have camellias and gardenias and orange trees and bluebonnets, but we've got some world-beating sunflowers that grow wild for the price of  a mere song in our hearts.


  1. and blue Kansas sky. It's a gray sky here and 47 degrees in the PNW. brrr. Gean

  2. Wow, I may not be ready for 47 degrees, but I'd take cooler. Not much gray here...Manhattan has about 330 clear days/year on average.


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