Friday, August 21, 2009

Western Sunflower

Western Sunflower, Helianthus occidentalis, is one of the uncommon prairie plants in Ohio. When growing in good soil, it can grow to be several feet tall and produce more than a dozen showy blooms.

The six to eight leaves are found near the ground where they are often shaded by other plants. This shading doesn’t hurt the Western Sunflower. The leaves appear early in the year and capture the sunlight necessary to store enough energy to carry the plant through flowering, seed production, winter dormancy and early spring growth.

Of course, plants growing in poor soil are not nearly as robust. The plants growing on this dry, rocky site don’t flower every year and rarely produce more than one bloom.

These flowers can easily survive within the tall grass community. The stems reach several feet into the air and put the flowers out where they can be seen by pollinators.

The flowers are amazing seed producers with each disk producing 40 to 50 viable seeds. The seeds are easy to germinate, if you can collect some before the finches get them all.

I don’t know why Western Sunflower is so uncommon. It’s a hearty plant that grows in a wide variety of conditions, it produces a lot of viable seed and it can quickly increase its numbers vegetatively. The Western Sunflower produces rhizomes, underground stems that can quickly turn a single plant into a large group of clones. When I first started my prairie garden, I germinated six seeds that produced six small Western Sunflower plants. I planted these six plants in the garden and within two years had hundreds of plants. Plants continue to advance into the lawn despite the fact that they are continually mowed off.

Naturally, the bugs like Western Sunflower. This is a Leaf Bug and it feeds on plants. I’ve seen this bug a many different species of yellow composite flowers, but haven’t noticed which part of the plant it prefers to eat.

It’s not often that I see a flower that doesn’t show signs of being eaten. This flower is about as clean and fresh as they get. I’m sure the bugs won’t be long moving to this bloom. I’m glad I was able to capture its image while it was so fresh.

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