Monday, July 3, 2017

50,000 acres of sunflowers

Yolo County, the agricultural area surrounding the cities of West Sacramento, Davis, Winters, Woodland and a few smaller communities, is a world hub for sunflower research and development. This year, sunflower cultivation in Yolo Country is said to be 50,000 acres, double what it was in 2015. Most of the sunflowers are hybrids, bred to exacting standards. They're grown for seeds, which are shipped all over the world and planted primarily for sunflower oil production.

Sunflower fields have been a common sight in our 20 years of living in Davis. However, their location changes from year to year so the uninformed public (i.e. folks like me) never knows where the best spots will be. This year, the Yolo County Visitor’s Bureau has published an official Sunflower Map; that must mean that sunflower peeping is on the rise, and efforts are being made to attract visitors.

I did some sunflower hunting myself on Saturday, and here are some of the images I brought home.


This spot was my favorite. Sunflowers are awesome on their own, but when they're combined with palm trees, a stately old farm house and agaves, the excitement meter hits the red zone.
I tried to do some research on this house, but the only mention I found was in the May 2009 Yolo County Historical Society Newsletter:

With only about 40 landowners along the corridor at any time, it is no surprise that few homes have ever been built here.  The 1908 and 1915 maps show just two-dozen farmsteads along the road and in 2009 there are just 35 dwelling units adjoining Road 27.  And these houses are not a very impressive lot.  This isn’t and never was an area of agricultural mansions.  Today only 2 of the 35 would be called grand or impressive, and one of them – the porticoed Beeman/Bullard house at Road 99 – is on the county’s inventory of historic homes. 


While Woodland itself has quite a few impressive late 19th/early 20th century homes, this is easily the most grandiose house outside the city limits.


Three large Agave americana are the cherry on the cake:


But back to sunflowers. I stopped at several fields, and all I had to do was point my camera at the sunflowers and start shooting. It's difficult to get a bad picture when you're surrounded by thousands of plants.


  
















And finally a few fun facts about sunflowers:

1. Sunflowers do turn their heads.

This article sheds new light on heliotropism, the solar tracking behavior sunflowers are well known for:
During the day, the east side of a sunflower stem grows more quickly than the west side, causing flower heads to tilt from east to west. At night, the opposite happens as the stem’s west side grows more quickly than the east, reorienting flower heads to face east at dawn. After sunflowers bloom and reach maturity, their stem growth slows, which restricts flower head movement. Older sunflowers adopt a more permanent position facing east. [...] Advantages of facing east are warmer flower head temperatures, which attracted five times more pollinators than sunflowers facing west. 

2. Sunflowers are native to the Americas.

According to Mental Floss, "[sunflowers] were cultivated in North America as far back as 3000 BCE, when they were developed for food, medicine, dye, and oil. Then, they were exported to the rest of the world by Spanish conquistadors around 1500."

3. Sunflower heads can have many, many, many seeds.

According to SpinFold, a "sunflower head is made up of 1000 to 2000 individual flowers which are joined at the base. The large petals which are found around the edge are individual ray flowers, which do not develop into seeds."

Owlcation adds that "according to National Geographic's Edible, some flower heads produce as many as 8,000 seeds."

4. Sunflowers get really tall.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, "the tallest sunflower measures 9.17 m (30 ft 1 in) and was grown by Hans-Peter Schiffer (Germany) in Karst, Nordrhein Westfalen, Germany, as verified on 28 August 2014." That's the height of a two-story house!

5. Sunflowers can absorb nuclear radiation.

According to  Inhabitat:
Nearly six months after the devastating tsunami hit Japan, communities are turning to mother nature to help restore theirs homes and hopes. Millions of sunflowers have been planted in radioactive areas to soak up toxins from the ground and brighten the hillside of Fukashima [sic].
Koyu Abe, chief monk at the Buddhist Joenji temple has been distributing sunflowers and their seeds to be planted all over Fukushima. The plants are known to soak up toxins from the soil, and patches of sunflowers are now growing between buildings, in backyards, alongside the nuclear plant, and anywhere else they will possibly fit. At least 8 million sunflowers and 200,000 other plants have been distributed by the Joenji Buddhist temple. “We plant sunflowers, field mustard, amaranthus and cockscomb, which are all believed to absorb radiation,” Abe says. 
This is not the first time sunflowers have come to the rescue in radioactive situations. Many were planted around the Chernobyl site to extract cesium from nearby ponds. Residents of Fukushima today are also experimenting with planting sunflowers next to vegetables in their personal gardens, hoping they will suck up all the toxins and they can begin to grow again. 

Even more reasons to love sunflowers!

23 comments:

  1. This is a great, great post. So informative. I, oddball that I am, love driving the Central Valley and seeing all the agricultural crops. But this one, the sunflowers is the prettiest of all. The map, innovative; CofCs should do more like it. However the murals that are showing up with the CV town's ag history are worth a visit, too.

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    1. You and me both! I may curse the distances when I'm in a hurry but a leisurely drive down Hwy 99, with stops along the way, is an adventure in its own right.

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  2. How interesting about sunflowers absorbing radiation! My question is: What do they do with the sunflowers after they have reached maturity? Is the radiation they have absorbed rendered harmless? Or do they have to dispose of them safely? So many questions!

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    1. Needless to say the articles I read did NOT mention that :-).

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  3. Is there any flower happier than a sunflower? I don't think so. Your "fun facts" were a nice addition to your always wonderful photos. I didn't know that sunflowers could absorb nuclear radiation - all the more reason to plant them!

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    1. Sunflowers are real work horses, aren't they? And beautiful, too!

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  4. Ooooooh how interesting and love your beautiful photos!

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    1. It's so neat driving along country roads and seeing these huge expanses of yellow.

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  5. I love seeing full fields of sunflowers in bloom! Nice facts, and great photo showing the rebel sunflower facing opposite everybody else! I wonder why the older ones don't face south instead?

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    1. This might be the explanation (source):

      "Advantages of facing east are warmer flower head temperatures, which attracted five times more pollinators than sunflowers facing west. Portable heaters warming the west-facing sunflowers restored some of the pollinator visits, but the plants were still visited less than east-facing flowers."

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  6. Sunflowers are loveable. I planted some out front one year and passersby really reacted to them, smiling and waving. They're cheerful. Great photos, great post.

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    1. We used to plant sunflowers every year but haven't in a long time. Next year for sure!

      You're right, they do bring a smile to people's faces.

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  7. That's quite a sight to behold there, very dramatic and cheerful!!

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    1. Yes! And I saw many sunflowers fields that were just getting going so the spectacle will continue for weeks to come.

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  8. A sunflower map, who knew ? I better make sure I take my camera the next time I have to venture out that way.

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    1. Let me know if you make it our way any time soon!

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  9. Great photos! I bought seeds a couple of years ago planning to plant sunflowers, but never did. Your wonderful shots of them en masse have convinced me that next year I just have to do it!

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    1. Me too!!

      I actually planted some old seeds this year (from 2010) but they didn't sprout.

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  10. Terrific post! So cheerful those lovely seed heads! I don't remember seeing sunflower fields when I lived in Sacto in the 80's. Thank you for all the interesting information,especially happy to hear they are native to America!!!

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    1. The sunflower fields are mostly in Yolo County. You can see them along I-5 north of Woodland as well as along the many county roads.

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  11. Good points about sunflowers' phytoremediation ability, and I would have never guessed your area was a center of research for them. I like them, but I took them for granted, having attended high school in what was once the Sunflower State. I think every fallow field there becomes sunflowers the first summer.

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    1. I think it's because of the close proximity to UC Davis.

      From the photos I've seen on Google, the sunflower fields in Kansas are a sight to see. According to Statista, Kansas came in 5th in sunflower production in 2016. The Dakotas are WAY ahead of the other states.

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  12. Fascinating as well as beautifully photographed!

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