The sight of a beautiful buckeye butterfly making its rounds through a field of sunflowers is a sight to cherish. This beauty was stopping atop the sunflowers all around me this past Tuesday at a farm just west of Carlyle, Ill. I also got plenty of close-up views of bumble bees, honey bees, cucumber beetles and a majestic butterfly called painted lady. Many critters drink the flowers' nectar and then inadvertently but beneficially distribute the flowers' pollen. While you might think of sunflowers as the giants that provide us sunflower seeds to snack on, Illinois prairies and farmlands host a number of native sunflowers that neither grow so large nor produce those big seeds, the shells of which we see constantly being spat from the mouths of big-league baseball players. Midwest sunflowers include the ashy sunflower, prairie sunflower, western sunflower and sawtooth sunflower, and they all look similar. We can also throw in the tall Maximilian sunflower – that one can grow to nine feet – and another tall sunflower called the Jerusalem artichoke. The common sunflower is a native version of the big cultivated sunflower, but only half the size in height.
T.E. Griggs is a writer, editor and photographer and a retired U.S. Marine.