Why Natives? The Wyoming Sunflower
Helianthus maximilani or the Perennial Sunflower will soon be gracing every
open space, every road barrow pit, and my garden. Why my garden?
- Nothing is like the warm, golden color of these natives.
- Fast Food for the Road: The flowers feed late pollinators, preparing them
for migration, hibernation or egg-laying. Seeded flower heads feed migrating
song birds as they head south for winter.
- Disguised: The “flower head” is actually hundreds of tiny flowers. Look
- The Good Bugs: Our native sunflower attracts one very special pollinator:
the bee fly (I love this name ~ Bombyliidae). You’ve seen them. Fuzzy little
flies with a long proboscis that looks like a stinger, but is used to take nectar.
These little insects will fill the centers of the sunflowers, their legs and fuzzy
bodies packed with golden pollen. And here is the ecological role of these
peaceful creatures: The Bomby is able to detect small holes in the soil where
grasshoppers have laid their eggs. The Bomby bee fly hovers over the hole
and drops its own eggs into that hole. The Bomby larva hatch first and
consume the grasshopper eggs. I love native team members. The first and
most important practice in permaculture is observation. Observation is done
to understand and apply what nature has developed over tens of thousands
of years. This reduces waste of resources and introduction of toxins or other
human long-term damage. As practitioners we support, even encourage natural processes. And so every year I collect the native sunflower seeds and
strategically plant them in the gardens near the fruit shrubs, and I offer them
water so that they will grow strong.
- Yummy: Collect the little sunflower heads when they have gone to seed.
Remove the sepals, or leaves, from around the flower head. Brush oil – like
olive flavored with garlic or sesame oil. Bake or grill the entire flower head.
The flower head will soften and then it can be eaten whole.
My cows are less appreciative of the gifts of the sunflower. They simply put the entire flowerhead in their mouth and pull the crunchiness in, crushing the sweet oily goodness.