Summer of the Sunflower
By Gerry Steinauer, Botanist
Last summer, the Sandhills were ablaze with the yellow blooms of
sunflowers, and everyone is asking "Why?" The simple answer is the severe
drought of 2012 followed by this summer's ample rain.
Although the display was most spectacular in the Sandhills, the exceptional
sunflower bloom occurred in native prairies and pastures over much of
central and western Nebraska, and to a lesser extent, eastern Nebraska. Our
state's two annual sunflowers, plains sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris) and
common sunflower (H. annuus), were the stars of the show. The late Junethrough October-flowering plains sunflower, adapted to sandy soils, grows
throughout Nebraska, except in the southeast, while the August- through
September-flowering common sunflower grows on clay and loam to somewhat
sandy soils nearly statewide.
PHOTO BY ERIC FOWLER
PHOTO BY JEFF KURRUS
ABOVE: A bumblebee visits the flower of a Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus turberosa) on the banks of the
Niobrara River. A true sunflower, the plant is not from Jerusalem, nor an artichoke.
OPPOSITE: Plains sunflower blossoms set the Sandhills ablaze with color along Highway 12 in Keya Paha County.
JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2014 • NEBRASKAland 25