25 July 2021
At Jennings Prairie Richard Nugent taught me a trick for identifying sunflowers true and false.
Sunflowers are daisy-like composites with a central disc surrounded by ray petals. The disc contains many tiny flowers.
True sunflowers: In true sunflowers, genus Helianthus, the fertile parts are all in the central disc where this bee is feeding. The ray petals are showy but not flowers in their own right.
It’s easy to find true sunflowers at Jennings Prairie. Tall sunflowers (Helianthus giganteus) towered over our heads.
False sunflowers: False sunflowers have fertile rays in addition to the central disc. If you pull off a ray petal you’ll see a tiny pistil at the end where it was attached.
That’s why another name for oxeye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) is false sunflower.
This method is so much easier than deciphering the leaves among Helianthus species.
(photos by Kate St. John)