Tucked away on a quiet stretch of country road in Olive Township, amid barns and lush green crops flourishing in the midsummer heat, is a field of golden yellow that pops in the evening sun.
Lindsey Dykstra, owner of Liefde Farm, has planted hundreds of sunflowers on a stretch of land behind her home. It’s easy to miss this sight while traveling along 104th Avenue, just south of Fillmore Street, as the flowers are hidden behind her barn.
But word has spread, and Dykstra’s quiet property, at 9400 104th Ave., is alive with a steady stream of visitors these days. She, her husband, Kevin, and her two children enjoy sitting outside and watching the photographers and happy families gathering for pictures.
“It’s nice to see people enjoy it,” Dykstra says with a smile, noting the many places that are closed due to public health concerns. “This is kind of a safer option because you can be outside.”
Often called the Milkweed Butterfly, this large black veined orange winged butterfly can be observed feeding on milkweed. During its mating behavior, the adult male monarch will display a “courtship dance.” Perching on the tips of the milkweed, it will fly to other large butterflies to see if one is a female monarch; if it is, they will fly together in a fast, darting flight, lasting up to a minute and covering many yards and to a height of 100 feet.
As fall approaches, the monarchs can be seen in large numbers migrating along the Great Lakes shorelines enroute to Mexico and Central America.
Monarch butterfly populations have been declining in Michigan for the last decade, and it appears that last winter was another tough blow for this beleaguered beauty. You can learn a lot more about Monarch butterflies and how to help protect them at Monarch Watch.
Michigan Gardener is a fantastic site that can give you all kinds of help with what to put in your garden and how to make it grow. They have a nice article about sunflowers featuring Bob Koenders, owner of the Backyard Bouquet Farm. It begins:
According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, in 1997 there were 32 farms growing sunflowers on 1,522 acres, and by 2002 there were 91 farms with 2,275 acres. Most of the fields of open sunflowers are oil seed type, grown for oil or seed (for birds or humans). Their heads were bred to hang down, making it more difficult for birds to eat the seeds and rain to ruin the harvest.
…According to the National Sunflower Association, the wild sunflower is native to North America, but commercialization of the plant was done by Russia. It was only somewhat recently that the sunflower plant “returned” to America. Native Americans first developed the wild sunflower into a single-headed plant with a variety of seed colors including black, red, white, and striped black and white. Some archeologists suggest that sunflowers may have been domesticated before corn. The Native Americans used the sunflower seed for grinding into flour, trail snacks, purple dyes, body painting, ceremonial, and medicinal uses. Sunflower oil was used for making bread, as well as on skin and hair. The dried stalks were even used for building materials.
They add some fun facts about sunflowers:
Sunflower’s scientific name is Helianthus; Helios meaning “sun” and anthos meaning “flower.”
Sunflower heads track the sun’s movement; this phenomenon is called heliotropism.
Sunflowers can grow up to 12 inches a day during the peak of the growing season. They are more photosynthetic than many other plants and better utilize the sun for growth.
Sunflower stems were used as filling for life jackets.
Sunflower leaves are cupped to channel the water down the stem.
Sunflower heads consist of 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined by a receptacle base. The large petals around the edge of the sunflower head are individual ray flowers which do not develop into seed.
The world record sunflower with the most heads (837) was grown in Michigan in 2001.