Perennial Sunflowers

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By Jake Landers
Published June 2012

Jake Landers Maximillian sunflower, here in the native plant display at the Menard Public Library, Menard, Texas, is a perennial variety that comes back each year from tubers or roots left in fhe ground rather than by seed. Sunflowers come in two main groups, those that must come up from seed each time they grow, Annuals, and those that can come back from roots as well as growing from seeds, Perennials. The annuals are the weedy ones that are pests in crops and pastures yet they provide the seeds for humans and birds to eat and have been developed into many varieties of colorful flowers. The perennials, mainly only two, provide the tubers of Jerusalem artichoke or Sunchoke, a few seeds for birds, and grazing for livestock and wildlife.

Field planting of Maximillian sunflower in October in its second year, was planted too thick to survive a third year except as a few scattered plants. I became acquainted with the perennial sunflowers in Iowa where they are members of the Tallgrass Prairie that remains as scattered tiny remnants of native plants alongside the fields of corn and soybeans. Both grow well in central Texas, and seldom appear except where they have been planted. The weedy annuals seem to grow anywhere there has been some disturbance of the soil.

Another distinguishing characteristic is the lack of a dark center in the flowerheads of the perennials.

About 10 years ago I planted some Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximilliani) and Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) in my garden for wildlife and tubers. The Maximillian sunflower flourished but didn’t produce many seeds, and the Jerusalem artichoke produced many tubers but I didn’t enjoy eating them. Annual sunflower and Camphorweed in the roadside responding to soil disturbance and abundant rainfall. The next year I planted Maximillian on one-half acre for wildlife habitat, and it flourished—too well. It grew so dense that it smothered itself and did not come back the next year. I had seen this problem before in some plantings by farmers for conservation, and I recommended cutting the planting rate way back. There may be something else involved such as self inhibition by chemicals generated in the rapidly growing plant.

On a small scale Maximillian sunflower has become a favorite sunflower in native plant displays in school, library, and public areas of Junction, Menard, and Eden in central Texas. The early rains of 2012 have grown the flowers, grasses, and shrubs that are worth a few minutes of your time to relax and smell, although there may not be any roses.

Reading The Landscape

Reading the landscape

What is your interpretation of this scene along Hwy 83 north of Junction in west central Texas?  Click here for my answer.


Reading the Landscape: Answer

Obviously not the ranch entrance sign of a “new” rancher, but the alternate use of a pickup door with advertizing decal of a Rambouillet Sheep breeder costing only the labor and used posts to put it up and a bit of white paint. (Set up in August 1990 for rancher’s 90th birthday) Properly grazed pasture in background is dominated by Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) and Texas wintergrass (Nasella leucotricha) in foreground and Liveoak in back with no Mesquite, Cedar, or Pricklypear cactus out-of-control.      —JL

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