With golden yellow petals and vibrant green leaves swaying in the breeze, wild sunflowers continue their summer bloom in the Anza Valley.
Related to domestic sunflowers, this indigenous species, Helianthus californicus, grows in various local habitats, providing bees, butterflies and moths a food source. Native sunflowers support these pollinators, as well as providing shelter and food for many insects and small animals.
The widespread plants are known by the common name, the California sunflower. It is native to the state and Baja California, Mexico. The perennial thrives in many types of habitats, filling whole fields and meadows with flowers.
Sunflowers grow from woody roots with small rhizomes, continuously growing horizontal underground stems that put out lateral shoots and roots at intervals. It is a sprawling, gangly plant, growing 3-10 feet tall or more. Leaves can be 8 inches long and are smooth or slightly toothed along the edges. Sturdy, hairy stems give rise to several flower heads, each supported by a base covered in long, pointed phyllaries that bend back as the head ages and develops fruit. The flower heads sport a fringe of golden ray florets and a center filled with curly yellow and brown disc florets. When mature, the seeds provide food for birds, insects and small mammals.
The hardy perennials thrive in dry, harsh habitats. They can be commonly observed growing on the sides of the local highways, despite exhaust fumes and the artificial wind caused by traffic passing.
Insect species such as Painted Lady and California Patch butterflies, as well as Isabella Tiger moths, honey bees and other pollinators benefit from sunflowers. Harvester ants, quail, songbirds, mice, rats and other small mammals depend on the seeds as a food source. They are used as shelter for many other animal and invertebrate species.
“Advice from a sunflower: be bright, sunny and positive. Spread seeds of happiness. Rise, shine and hold your head high.” – Unknown
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.