They are a quintessential sign of Texas summer, blanketing our roadsides and rolling Hill Country with wide swaths of vibrant yellow.
To see a batch of sunflowers is, for some, to receive an instant mood boost.
"They’re beautiful. They’re cheerful," said Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. "It’s hard to look at a sunflower and not feel happy."
Amid a pandemic and anti-racism protests across the country, it may seem as though this year’s sunflower crop is standing a little taller and shining a little brighter than usual. You’re not imagining it.
"I’ve noticed that, too. They are having a particularly nice year," DeLong-Amaya said. "There’s so many more this year than we’ve seen in the past."
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DeLong-Amaya said a big reason for this season’s strong crop is "well-spaced rains over the course of the spring" as the seeds were germinating. She said that because sunflowers thrive in soil that has been disturbed or exposed, you’re especially likely to see them along roadsides that have experienced construction, such as the stretch of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) near Slaughter Lane, which is the Wildflower Center’s neck of the woods.
Blooming could continue well into the summer, DeLong-Amaya said, as long as there is enough rain. She added that you could even plant seeds right now and have fresh blooms in a month or two, as they are extremely heat-tolerant.
"We just got an inch of rain, and that’s going to take us at least a couple weeks. They’ll go for another month at least," she said. "It’s really rain-dependent, because they’re very heat-tolerant as long as they have enough rain."
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The most common type of sunflower in the Austin area is, well, the common sunflower.
"Their seeds have a high oil content, which makes them very appealing for finches and painted buntings. If you’re trying to attract seed-eating birds, they’re a great plant to have for that," she said. "They’re also really good for providing a nectar source for pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. That’s another benefit that they offer."
Other types common in our area include the beach sunflower, which grows in sandier soils, and the Maximilian sunflower, which blooms closer to fall.
The sunflowers have been so striking that local photographer Aneta Hayne has begun offering sunflower-themed photoshoots.
"My soul is so happy," she wrote on a Facebook, "to photograph joyful humans in sunflower paradise."