Plants & Animals

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From Missouri Conservationist: Aug 2015

Bristly Sunflower

I headed out for Mora Conservation Area, south of Sedalia in Benton County, during a classic Missouri summer rainstorm. Some friends planned to meet me for a photography walk and prairie tour but cancelled due to the weather. I was on my own. I loaded my gear in the pre-dawn downpour and headed out as lightning illuminated my way.

I pulled up to a road ditch at the edge of the prairie and saw a man-made owl’s nest on a pole. It was in the middle of a large field of native flowers and bluestem grasses. I decided to stop as it might provide a good photo if an owl made an appearance.

The intense storm eased to a gentle drizzle as darkness turned to gray dawn. A break in the cloudbank on the eastern horizon formed just as the first rays of sunlight streaked across the landscape and a brilliant rainbow appeared. A large patch of bristly sunflowers began to glow in the gentle reflected illumination of the rain clouds overhead. This all happened so quickly that I nearly tripped over the legs of my tripod as I scrambled across the road ditch to frame the storm clouds, rainbow, and wildflowers in a pleasing composition. A low-angle approach seemed best. I sat on the ground with the closest blooms just inches from my lens as I shielded it from the gentle shower.

Bristly sunflowers (Helianthus hirsutus) are frequently found along roadsides, prairies, and woodlands around the state. They are a member of the daisy family and grow up to 4 feet tall. The showy flowers bloom from July to October, and they grow well in poor, rocky soil. The yellow blooms of the bristly sunflower are often confused with the many other types of sunflowers. They do share similar characteristics as members of the same family of Asteraceae, but they are not the same plant.

The whole sunrise-clearing-storm-rainbow event lasted only a few minutes before the clouds churned back and turned to a solid steel gray obscuring the sun. I try to remind myself that it is not always a blue-sky day in Missouri, and sometimes a little adverse weather can lend drama and interest to ordinary photos. The old idiom “nothing ventured, nothing gained” held true that morning.

—Story and photograph by David Stonner

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This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler