Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thursday Thirteen 343: In Search of Sunflowers

This time of year is usually one of my favorites at the Arboretum's Greene Prairie, when it is a riot of yellow sunflowers, punctuated with the purple of gayfeathers and blazing stars. This year, however, there is a dearth of sunflowers, as well as many other plants in the Sunflower — or Asteraceae — family. A naturalist on a recent guided walk said she did not know what was causing it, whether it is disease or something else. I believe weather may be another factor — a hard, cold winter followed by a cold, wet spring and an above normal amount of rain in June. It has also been several years since it was burned, and fire is necessary for sustaining a healthy prairie. Many factors have prevented a controlled burn here, weather — particularly high winds — being a primary issue.

There are more than 23,000 species in the asteraceae family, nearly 100 of which can be found throughout the UW Arboretum. These range from spring pussy-toes to fall asters, and a variety of plants which bloom throughout the summer that includes sunflowers, daisies, ragweed, thistles, coneflowers, and goldenrod.

Not finding any sunflowers at Greene Prairie, I decided to walk down to Dunn's Marsh-Dawley Conservancy Park in Fitchburg, about a mile south of the Arboretum's Grady Tract. Part of the Capitol City State Trail cuts through a restored prairie on the south shore of the pond, where there are tons of sunflowers. The path winds round the pond and connects with other state and local trails. It is a pleasant place to walk, with sunflowers towering overhead, and coneflowers, Queene Anne's Lace and other wildflowers mixed in. Here are a few photos taken during a recent visit. Click on any photo for a larger view.

Greene Prairie -- the random sunflowers you can see belong to prairie dock,
and they are nowhere near as tall or as plentiful as previous years.

The abundance of sunflowers at Dawley Conservancy Park is evident from the road.

One lone bloom among many buds.

Cup-plant can grow to eight feet tall, prairie dock to nine feet.

A Cup-plant in full bloom.

While there is some Queen Anne's Lace mixed in with the sunflowers, the one thing
I did not see this year was wild quinine, which grew right along the trail last summer.

Sunflowers of various heights line either side of the trail.

They back right up to the tree line and marsh along the Cap City Trail.

Sunflowers and Queen Anne's Lace near the trail hub.

Sunflowers, coneflowers, joe-pye weed and Queen Anne's Lace are among the
many wildflowers found at Dawley Conservancy and Dunn's Marsh.

LINKING TO: Thursday Thirteen


Mia Celeste said...

Wow! Sunflowers. I love sunflowers. I've got a garden full of them, but not nearly as many as you've captured on your post. Thanks for the eye candy.

colleen said...

I grew a few giant ones this year. I posted a question on Facebook: Does anyone know what kind of bird or animal could remove a whole sunflower head flower from a 12 foot sunflower stalk behind a 10 foot electric fence without leaving a trace?

It's still a mystery!

Heather said...

Mia: This is why I love living near prairie restorations this time of year - such a huge variety of them! There is another local conservancy that has the giant sunflowers, but I have not been able to get out by them. Yet. ☺

Heather said...

Colleen: Wow, that's quite a sneak thief you have. I don't know of any birds that would take the entire flower head. Maybe a chipmunk or a squirrel?

Alice Audrey said...

I planted some sunflowers across from my parking area this year, but none came up. In my case, I suspect rockiness rather than lack of fire.

Heather said...

Alice: According to my Prairie Plants book, most sunflowers prefer "wet to dry (usually in medium to dry-medium) prairie remnants and sand prairies/barrens." They like well-drained soil and full sun -- which is why I think the excessive rain here in June affected the sunflowers at Greene Prairie. The trails there were closed most of May and June.

CountryDew said...

Lovely yellows! I love sunflowers but didn't get any planted this year. Thanks for sharing your walk!

Heather said...

Anita: They're so cheerful, aren't they? I walked over that way again tonight and am really feeling it right now.

Alice Audrey said...

Come to think of it, we had unusually wet this year, too. But the neighbor's sunflowers came up just fine.

Heather said...

Alice: It's not just the amount of wet, but type of soil and drainage. There are tons of sunflowers at Dawley/Dunn's Marsh, but the drainage there is better than at Greene Prairie.

Alice Audrey said...

I suspect the drainage here might actually be a bit too much. It's gravel on top of limestone boulders. Soil has to be imported.

Heather said...

Thanks to the glaciers, our soil varies greatly. It can be sand or gravel in one area, and clay only a mile or two away.