Face to the Sun

I read somewhere the flower head (capitulum) of a sunflower will track the sun when it is young and growing, and will eventually face east when mature. Tracking the sun in this manner is called heliotropism. To me, it’s a bit of magic in the plant world.

WATERCOLOR OF SUNFLOWER

Many articles have been written about the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and why the flower heads follow the sun. It’s believed there is unequal growth in the plant stem. The east side of the plant stem grows more during the day than the west side, and vice versa during the night, thus allowing the flower head to move. But that changes when the plant is mature and its stem stiffens; then the flower head will face the east.

I sometimes wonder whether it’s somewhat similar for humans. No, not that we grow more on one side than the other. But that we excel when we turn our face to the sun and feel the first morning light hit the face with a gentle warmth and a promise of the day to come. Is that fanciful? Perhaps.

But I know I experience a lift to my mood when the sun is shining. I also know I feel my mood elevate when I see the the extraordinarily beautiful creatures and plants that nature provides. Maybe, just maybe, that’s my equivalent of having my “face to the sun.” Here’s some of my face to the sun moments from earlier this week…

Just before I put on my sandals to go out for a walk, this glorious creature appeared on the bushes by the patio. It made me stop in my tracks and grab the cell phone for a quick photo. A very obliging creature I must say. It’s a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. While males and females are both yellow, only the female has the blue wash of color near its tail. It’s even more miraculous to see considering its lifespan is only about two weeks.

EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL FEMALE

Okay, so I’m now on my way for a walk, and this creature greets me as I head out the front door. A Hummingbird Clearwing moth on another butterfly bush. Again, very accommodating to allow a cell phone so close for a photo. I’ve read these creatures only have one brood in northern states, laying small green eggs on the underside of leaves. Once hatched, they feed on plants and then drop to the ground to spin a cocoon and pupate where they will hide amongst leaf litter during the winter until they emerge in the spring. Yet another reason why allowing some leaves to remain on the ground can be a very good thing.

HUMMINGBIRD CLEARWING MOTH

Now, on with my tale…so I’m headed out for a walk when I also encounter this beautiful little Common Eastern bumblebee on a Great Blue Lobelia plant. The bee is a tiny female – only about half the size of what one normally thinks a bumblebee should be. She’s a great worker for the colony. See the yellow pollen on the hind leg? She sweeps the pollen off her legs and it collects in what’s known as the corbicula (pollen basket) on the hind legs. It’s how she carries this food back to the nest for the young.

COMMON EASTERN BUMBLEBEE ON GREAT BLUE LOBELIA

You never know what you’re going to see when you’re out walking. Some of the most amazing things we so easily overlook. Like this Chicory plant. It’s a pretty common sight. It grows quite readily along roadsides at this time of year. The flowers open in the morning, and close up in the early afternoon after a morning of sunshine. The bloom only lasts one day. And new blooms appear the next day. Amazing that this plant can so easily handle bad soil and road salt. I admire it for it’s toughness. And beauty.

CHICORY

We have a lot of Common Mullein growing along the bike trail this time of year. They’re huge, spiky looking plants, some easily reaching six feet tall. It’s an invasive plant in Ohio. But when you look very closely at the flowers, they’re amazing. This little Western Honey bee seems to think so. Easy to see the pollen collected on its hind legs.

WESTERN HONEY BEE ON COMMON MULLEIN

And finally, one more beautiful creature that also caught my attention and made me smile. A female Monarch butterfly on Purple Coneflowers. She’s a beautiful specimen. No torn or tattered wings. A Monarch will go from egg, to larvae, to pupa to adult butterfly in just about 30 days. And most likely she will soon be heading south for Mexico with the goal of reaching her destination in November, as I believe she may be fourth generation.

MONARCH ON PURPLE CONEFLOWER

There are so many beautiful things to observe in nature, just like the sunflower that turns its face to the sun tracking its warmth, growing tall and strong. I believe by observing and appreciating the beauty of nature around us every day that we too can experience the feeling of having our “face to the sun.”

Until next time, keep observing nature up close.

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