A little experiment is going on in the Japanese Peace Garden. The Sunfinity Sunflower has joined the common native sunflower volunteers.

A little experiment is going on in the Japanese Peace Garden. The Sunfinity Sunflower has joined the common native sunflower volunteers.

Sunfinity Sunflower (Helianthus hybrida) is an interspecific hybrid. Syngenta Flowers breeders worked ten years before this sunflower, a cross of two different species, was released. The nickname gives it away. The annual is supposed to continually bloom for about 3 months producing up to 50 flowers, unlike other sunflowers. Reaching nearly four feet tall, the multiple branches should expand out two feet. The marketing of this new generation sunflower is now targeted to greenhouse growers and the retail industry.

After some digging (get it, digging?) I discovered Sunfinity produces little pollen, abundant nectar and few seeds. Syngenta Flowers merchandises it as a ‘pollinator friendly’ plant that attracts bees, bugs and birds. On the other hand, it also attracts aphids, whiteflies and powdery mildew. Burpee sells Sunfinity Sunflower seeds, but gardeners have mixed comments about the germination. Lowes, Walmart and Home Depot are currently selling greenhouse grown plants. Want a sunflower that doesn’t follow the sun and has a longer shelf life? Here it is.

Beside the corporate flower in front of the bubbling rock was planted a Blue Daze Evolvulus (Evolvulus glomeratus). This member of the morning glory family does not twine and vine. The groundcover has soft fuzzy green stems embraced by small silver-green leaves. I am waiting for the appearance of the one-inch true blue flowers with ruffled edges. I love blue flowers. The branches are a tad fragile. One healthy stem well clad with leaves snapped off during ‘installation’. I took it home.

After an evening of sharing the same small glass jar of water with the avocado seed, BD (Blue Daze) thought it was the pits and began to wilt. On-line propagation tips: trim, dip end in a rooting compound, plant in lightweight moist soil, place in clear plastic bag, add straws to keep plastic off leaves, tie off bag and place in indirect light.

The Hi-Yield 5-12-3 rooting stimulator has been under the sink for hundreds of years. I mixed some pieces of Styrofoam into the pot of abandoned soil (last seed never sprouted), whirled the end in the ancient root exciter, plunged it into damp soil, enclosed everything in large Ziploc bag, strategically placed one pink straw and some chop sticks, rubber-banded the opening closed and put the strange incubator on the sunporch. Next day, BD had actually perked up. He prefers his own company.

Some lucky family members flew to Kaua’i, Hawai’i for their friend’s destination wedding. The wedding was fun, but the volcanic rocks and tropical plants really caught their attention. After plowing through towering bamboo thickets, they came upon these odd plants growing in a field.

The plants, related to sunflowers, are called Silverswords. In Hawaiian they are known as Iliau. One botanist calls the Iliau a fireworks explosion of green leaves.

Another thinks the plant in flower resembles Dr. Seuss’s Truffula tree in “The Lorax” (1971) with a slightly curved trunk and cluster of leaves at the top. The real tree that inspired Dr. Seuss may have been a 100 year old Monterey Cypress. Twelve days ago that very tree toppled over for unknown reasons. The Lorax speaks for the trees. The story follows the destruction of the environment. Some feel the fall of the Cypress is an omen. Do you?

The taxonomic name for Iliau is ‘Wilkesia gymnoxiphium’. The genus name ‘Wilkesia’ honors US Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, the commanding officer who directed the United States Exploring Expedition (U.S. Ex. Ex.) in 1838. The destination: survey the Pacific Ocean and surrounding lands. The exploration squadron of seven boats carried 350 men with scientific team of 2 botanists, 3 naturalists, one conchologist, taxidermist, artist, a mineralogist/geologist and philologist (specialist in languages). They stopped to study Fiji and Hawai’i in 1840-41. Wilkes managed to earn two convictions by court-marshal (one involved the massacre of 80 Fijians and the other mistreatment of his officers and crew.) By 1842, Wilkes had traveled 87,000 miles, lost 2 boats and 28 men. Wilkes (an arrogant man known for his obsessive behavior) may have been the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab in his 1851 novel Moby Dick.

The rare Iliau only grows on the Hawaiian Island of Kaua’i. The tall sunflower can reach 15 feet. It prefers to grow on dry slopes and in the Waimea canyon (dry in Hawai’i is 31-79 inches of rain) at elevations over 1,000 feet. The Iliau are endangered, a situation not improved by the fact feral goats love to eat them. Once the Iliau flowers, it sets seed and dies, but the process may take10 to 50 years before the plant decides to produce flowers. The floral stalk extends up 5 feet with hundreds of delicately scented creamy-green daisies spiraling around the stalk. If the top has been broken, side stalks will bloom.

From the tropics of Hawai’i my son returned home to work for a few weeks before he flew to the Cascade Mountains of Oregon to participate in the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. Five fun-filled days riding a mountain bike four hundred miles through the wild country of the Cascades on gravel and backroads. The riders each climbed over 37,000 feet (up, down, and all around) during the week! The word epic surfaces often. I think crazy is the better word.

During the ordeal he took pictures. One shot shows how beautiful the Cascades are. Fir covered mountains partially hidden by clouds provide a dramatic backdrop for the purple Foxgloves and Snowbrushes in the foreground.

The Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is native to Europe and Asia, but some enterprising settlers carried them to western Oregon, Washington, California and a few places on the east coast. The German Leonhart Fuchs-Fox in English-in 1542 gave the flower the Latin genus name ‘Digitalis’ (finger-like) because it easily fits over a finger. No one knows how the connection between Fox and glove happened.

The native Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus) is only found in the snow countries of the northwest: SW Canada, OR, CA to SD and CO. Snowbrushes are commonly referred to as buckbrushes since deer, elk and mountain goats find them tasty. The small creamy white flowers form seed pods from which seeds are ejected in August. Seeds can remain alive for centuries unless sparked into life by heat from a fire. Nurseries have trouble cultivating these hardy mountain shrubs in the buckthorn family.

What we call buckbrush here (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)—not related to the NW buckbrush—is in the honeysuckle family. Our native limits itself to the eastern US and Canada. Some know it as coralberry for purplish berries in fall relished no doubt by deer and other wildlife. An eastern species produces white berries and is commonly called, surprise, snowberry. The beauty of common names. We’ve almost come full circle.

So, why is it called buckbrush? What about the doe?

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.