The True Beauty of a Sunflower

Am I alone in finding beauty in a sunflower whose bloom has long since gone? Even as a small child I found the center of a sunflower completely fascinating with all the seeds so perfectly formed and lined up in neat concentric circles. The dry outer edges with their white "whiskers" always intrigued my childhood imagination as well.

Now that I'm older and maintain my own backyard wildlife habitat, there is an added beauty to the dried and spent sunflowers. In planning the Rosehaven Cottage gardens so they could be a certified habitat, I read a lot, and one of the things I remember reading was that if you're a neatnik and a control freak, a wildlife habitat is probably not going to be your cup of tea. Why? Because finely manicured gardens don't necessarily provide the food and shelter that little creatures need to be happy.

I discovered in the first couple of growing seasons, that spent sunflowers remaining in the garden long after the sunflower is "sunny" are a staple of the Rosehaven Cottage habitat. The tall dried stalks get stronger the drier they become, and eventually transform into natural birdfeeders during the lean winter months when the birds can't find insects to munch on because it's too cold for insects to be out and about in the garden.

Many birds winter-over in the Bay Area of Northern California where Rosehaven Cottage is located. These birds thrive on the yummy sunflower seeds that wait and ripen from summer's bloom until winter's birdy harvest. House finches, oak titmouses, scrub jays, woodpeckers, and many seasonal birds find the drooping dried heads and hang from them surgically extracting seeds with their beaks as the winter rains come down around them.

The giant varieties like the Kong sunflower are particularly fun. Their giant heads sit atop thick trunk-like stalks that are up to 14 feet tall. Each giant dish head can hold hundreds of seeds. The birds don't finally deplete the giant heads of their bounty until very late into the winter around February. And because our last frost is usually around the middle to the end of March, the insect population comes back early enough in the year that the seeds last through the lean months until another food source comes along. It is a fascinating and miraculous cycle that I have witnessed year after year, and yet it never ceases to bring me joy and wonder.
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8 comments:

  1. I have even had the sunflowers "reseed" themselves - a stray seed that was unseen by the birds.

    I love watching the birds eat them - I have even had them eat the decorative "Indian Corn" hanging on my porch. They very neatly ate each row until there were just bare cobs left.

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  2. I grow my sunflowers for the birds in my garden. It's such a delight to see them eat the seeds. Many birds love sunflower seeds above all the other kinds of seeds.

    I garden with nature, not against it. Creating a habitat for wildlife is part of that. Like you, I don't care for finely manicured gardens, I'd prefer gardens that are teeming with life, wildlife. ;-)

    Wonderful pic!

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  3. Hi Cindy,

    I spent some time last year watching birds use the drooped heads of the sunflowers as a bird table. How wonderful i thought for nature to design a bid feeder and food all in one.
    One of the poictures in the Wiggly collection on my web site is of a sunflower gone to seed but with its florets still in place.

    Cheers Mark

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  4. I, too, love the sunflowers. Your're right they have a whole other beauty when they are dried. Here they don't last very long because either the squirrels, chipmunks, mice or birds jump right in as soon as the seeds are mature. Thanks for the nice comments.

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  5. Great post on sunflowers. I never intentionally plant any sunflowers because we feed the birds sunflower seeds and they always naturally grow. I love what you said about creating a refuge for animals, I totally agree.

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  6. ....this is such a cool photo, enjoyed reading post as well. anna :)

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  7. Cool photo. I don't plant sunflowers, but always have a few self-sow from the birdseed. I do have a lot of other seeded flowers - it's so fun to watch the birds flit in and dine on things I've grown!

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  8. Nice blog. I will keep reading. Please take the time to visit my blog about Orchid Care

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