Sunflowers and Zinnia

by Jim and Melanie

Much of Iowa holds “the best of both worlds.” If you live in a rural area, you might not be very far from a bustling town. If you live in town, you probably have farm fields within a dozen miles of your home. Just north of us is a small farm actually within its city limits. On the farm grows corn, but it’s best known for the large pumpkin patch, open for weeks in the fall for happy families to visit. The pumpkins that families purchase make grinning, gap-toothed Halloween decorations and harvest decor that lasts for months.

Besides the pumpkins, the farm owners have developed another field growing sunflowers. Recently on a sunny morning, we stopped by to enjoy the brilliant orangey-yellow petals, held aloft on sturdy stems.

This one reminded Melanie of a person tapping her face with her fingers.

Not being experts in sunflowers, we hadn’t realized that there were so many different kinds. The largest blooms, as big as a dinner plate, drooped under their weight on thick stems. Most of the flowers were spent, but the centers were dense with seeds drying in the sun. These flowers were termed “deadheads” and were free for the taking. Jim clipped two big heads to bring home for the birds to enjoy later in the year.

While the classic sunflower has golden petals and a dark brown center, the field also included brilliant yellow blooms, as well as burgundy ones.

The one below caught our eye because of the elegant structure from the side. The other shot shows its face. When we looked inside, we could see it was full of bugs! There was a bee, things that looked like lightning bugs, and dozens of tiny green things. Most of the blooms didn’t host this wildlife. Click the picture to embiggen.

As we wandered through the flowers, we heard a wail rise up on the other end of the field. There were two women with two blonde girls, about three and four years old. Each girl was in a dress printed with sunflowers, ready for a photo session. Except the smaller one was not; it was she who cried out in a tantrum that quickly proceeded to a full meltdown. Heedless of the cajoling and scolding of the women, the girl did not relent. After a few minutes, the plan was abandoned and all four retreated to their car.

Besides the sunflowers, zinnias were on display. Their colors were fading with the season, but they still attracted butterflies.

In addition to the sunflower patch and the pumpkin patch, this local farm has a corn maze. Mazes can be found all around the country. Here is an aerial photo from an intricate maze on the Oregon Dairy Farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The farm buildings are at the upper right. This maze is huge. It, and hundreds of others, are intricate works of art. How is a big maze built?

Oregon Dairy Farm | Lancaster Co. PA

A typical method is as follows. The acreage is planted in the spring in a cross-hatched pattern to eliminate rows in the final maze. When the corn is 2-3 ft tall, the maze pattern is cut. A pattern is designed, digitized, and fed into a highly accurate GPS unit mounted on a small tractor with a cutting attachment. The tractor drives itself through the designed maze on the GPS. It can be finished in less than a day.


17 thoughts on “Sunflowers and Zinnia

  1. Mrs. P

    Two of my favorite flowers…truthfully, I have a lot of favorites! I knew there were many varieties because I grew them one year and was surprised at the differences in color and size. It was only recently I discovered the burgundy ones.

    I thought the one flower looked like someone covering their mouth in surprise, I’m glad Melanie saw something in that one as well.

    I had heard that squirrels are fond of snapping the heads before the seed mature…and they did…watch out for them stealing your bird treat.

    Looks like we’ll dodge the hurricane and just have tropical storms, we’ll know for sure in a few hours.

    1. Jim R Post author

      Oh yes, the squirrels will try to get away with anything possible.

      You and Melanie both saw a face in that one. It was fun to see all the varieties of shapes and colors.

      It is good that the hurricane is veering away. I feel bad for the people in the Bahamas and Abaco.

      1. Mrs. P

        Yes, it was pure devastation. A hurricane of that magnitude would be disastrous landing anywhere in the states but an island simply has no protection from surge.

  2. BJ Good

    Thanks for sharing an interesting way to “be” outdoors. I also didn’t know there were many different kinds of sunflowers.

    1. Melanie McNeil

      I was pretty surprised to see the different kinds. I don’t know why that’s surprising! 🙂 The many colors of zinnias remind me of the dahlias we enjoyed last year in Tacoma.

  3. shoreacres

    There are so many varieties of sunflowers on the market today, and I can’t help wondering if the insect-rich flowers were native, while others were cultivars. I know that bird lovers here are cautious about which sunflowers they grow, because not every variety is attractive to the birds. That’s about the extent of my knowledge, but I do know a woman here who grows different varieties for cutting than she does for seed.

    They’re all beautiful, no question about that. I’m so ready for cooler weather, pumpkin patches, and all those wonderful autumn treats!

    1. Jim R Post author

      The people operating the farm said 5 varieties were planted. I don’t think any were native. I don’t know how the sunflower field is managed after the season. Is it replanted again next year? Dug up and planted in another plot? Rotated with the pumpkin patch?

      We were up to the mid-80s today and muggy. The next few will be in the 70s and dry. I bet we have some more summer heat before it changes to cool fall.

  4. Val

    There are definitely some huge sunflowers, I’ve seen a few of the heads – unfortunately detached from their stems – of the really big ones. We grow some sunflowers in our garden (yard) but not the giant variety – wouldn’t have room for them!

    Have you ever seen birds eating sunflower seeds straight from the heads? I keep hoping to, but haven’t as yet and we’ve loads of birds here!


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