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Up with the sunflowers

Low desert mornings are beautiful in May and June, the air still cool and crisp before the slight sogginess of monsoon season sets in later in the summer.  The real desert is even cooler, but here in our corner of Phoenix there is enough open saguaro-y space in nearby Papago Park and few enough lawns in the ‘hood to maintain a deserty feel in the air.

Sunrise this morning was prime, overseen by a waning gibbous moon still high in the sky, and I wandered into the back garden early to see who was around.  I found a pair of complementary blooms: a passion flower winding up a sunflower — sunrise and moonset together on a garden scale.

While I was admiring them, tiny Lesser goldfinches flew into the sunflowers to fress.  We put out nyjer thistle in feeders for them, but even still they’re always hungry enough to rifle the seedy charms of a sunflower.  So we let the reseedlings take over the herb garden in the summer, and allow the basil plants and mexican hats go to seed for the little yellow dinosaurs, who repay us by spreading the seeds around for next year’s crop.

The Lesser Goldfinch below came within feet of me to feed.  Her boldness can be interpreted as lack of experience — she’s a juvenile, and not as jaunty as the big boys, but she’ll do. (Photos A.Shock: upper, with iPhone4/Camera+app; lower, with Canon EOS xti, 55-250mm zoom)

Posted by Allison on Jun 6th 2012 07:42 am | 4 Comments
| View birds,botany,close in,natural history,yard list category

4 Responses to “Up with the sunflowers”

  1. Kierstenon 06 Jun 2012 at 8:21 am link comment

    Just gorgeous. I never knew passion flower would grow in AZ. You post is making me home sick, as I keep running into frustrations here. I guess that is normal for moving to a place that is so new to us. However, I do spend every morning with a cup of coffee in one of your fabu mugs. Makes me smile! Miss you.

  2. kate mckinnonon 06 Jun 2012 at 10:20 am link comment

    I am happy to see your passionflower- we are too well stocked with Gulf Frittilaries to see more than a vine. We maybe get one flower before ours are eaten to the ground.

    Any tips on fooling them? It’s the same vine they are eating every year- it renews itself.

  3. Allisonon 06 Jun 2012 at 10:38 am link comment

    We have had fritillary larvae decimate vines on occasion, but we take no action. We’ve only ever deliberately purchased and planted one passionflower plant: the current vines are all volunteer “pests” rambling around our herb garden, shading out mint and oregano etc, so things seem to keep in balance letting it all flow. But we do have several vines at any given time in the backyard, which seem to satisfy plentiful frits.

    Here is an interesting thing: the longest-lasting passionflower vine in the yard is a volunteer growing in a godforsaken crack in the pool deck right in the same spot as a wolfberry and a paloverde. It gets no water (except I think there is a moisture halo from the pool under the cement), so its foliage and flowers are smaller and tougher than the well-watered ones in other parts of the garden. Fritillaries feed at the flowers, but the larvae never significantly infest it: maybe growing it hard concentrates the chemical defenses in the plant. I don’t know. It also survives freezes better. In addition, the type we grow is the native wild species, Passiflora foetida. Perhaps growing the species and not the more spectacular garden varieties will thwart complete decimation?

  4. […] block wall between our herb garden and the patio section of the All-You-Can-Eat Fink Bar, an unruly tangle of sunflowers beloved by Lesser Goldfinch (the authentic locals) and also Rosy-faced Lovebird tourists, purely for asthetic and entertainment […]

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