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Thinleaf Sunflower

Wild Sunflower and Lady Beetle

Helianthus decapetalus and Harmonia axyridis
Observed along West Virginia Highway 92 just north of Cove Run Road
and about 12 miles south of Newburg      •     August 24, 2009
Photo by Beau Bosko

Posted on May 25, 2010, from Fayetteville, Arkansas

The lady beetle is a legal immigrant and a predator, a descendant of insectile field hands brought from Japan to the USA in the nineteen-sixties and seventies to battle aphids in commercial pecan groves and apple orchards of the southeast and northwest.  The beetle's presence on a slender petal of the wild Thinleaf Sunflower, a natural act of momentary import, one I witnessed and captured nine months past in a field beside a rural West Virginia highway, becomes in deep retrospect the inspiration for tonight's inquiry, launched from the solitude of Crow's Cottage, late summer to late spring on a quickening passage.

I'll admit, it's not easy. Something important has gone missing here at the cottage, some hard-to-define rational underpinning to the soundness of thought.  It used to be there, this important but elusive thing on the mental landscape, but I can't find it anymore.  Crawling from one phrase to another and believing that Yes, the stitched-together phrases do make sense, is a strange and formidable perception.  I must record it here and now, whether it fits or doesn't fit, or else . . . risk . . . falling into silence.

If we accept the premise that memory is non-linear, that recollections of moments past are comingled with impressions gathered from an endless now, right there before us, borne on eyes and ears into the mix,
if we are compelled to create against high odds of success, and then share our creations with an imagined universe out there — see it! on a dimmed and diminished horizon,
if we turn away from our debilitations, the malevolence of lack and loss, turning instead to images of beautiful flowers and fascinating creatures and wondrous ideas — see them! the antidote,
we arrive at a better place, where sense can be made out of the fragments, and where meaning is resurrected from the midnight ashes. 

"That's what we fight, the dissolution," said the mistress of the hacienda, having heard the exhortation.  "Constantly.  The despair at knowing it's the natural progression toward inertia and entropy — old age — and the determination not to give in to it."

Flowers, I suppose, don't experience angst.  Perennials like the sunflower rise from the warming soil as a delicate shoot, then climb and bud and blossom before going to seed without pause for self-reflection or occasion to appraise the territory and compare notes.

Botanists claim to have identified almost seventy distinct species of Helianthusheli = sun and anthus = flower in the Greek of scientific classification.  As best I can figure, the specimen displayed here is a Helianthus decapetalusdeca = ten and petalus = petals, thus the common name "Ten Petals Sunflower," aka the Thinleaf, aka the Pale Sunflower.  (OK, it could be a Helianthus strumosus, the Paleleaf Woodland Sunflower — the experts tell us it is often misidentified as a decapetalus, or vice versa — the two are known to change from one species to the other through natural hybridation, the gradual intergrading from one form to the other — but choose we must, and I have.)

Whence the designation Ten Petals?  Two (x) times the five points of the pentagonal aster, the Greek star?  Genus Sunflower is a member of the Asteraceae family, closely related to the daisy, lettuce, chicory, mum, and dandelion.  I wish I could return to seeds and anthers the wildflower field way back in West Virginia, drift into lost time, count the number of rays on the Thinleaf specimens thriving there in the hot noon of August.  As best I can discern, the golden-yellow representative I photographed has eight petals, but there appears to be space for two more.  The instant of light from nine months ago, which is saved and displayed here, came late in the wildflower's life.  Maybe a couple of the petals broke loose and fell to Earth.  Maybe they were eaten by a moth or caterpillar.

Look closely, just behind the left hindquarters of the ladybug at the top of the page, and you'll see a dark gray seed emerging from one of the tubular anthers in the cluster of stamens on the flower's head.  The close-up image to the left shows a different Thinleaf Sunflower with several seeds bursting forth.   Seeds?   I base the observation on thoughtful speculation, not on the certain knowledge of a specialist's training and expertise.  But playing the role of amateur naturalist is a central purpose of the exercise, designed to nurture curiosity and sharpen mental acuity.  If we leave something of value behind for the community to enjoy, then all the better.

As symbol and metaphor, the sunflower evokes tantalizing possibilities — Van Gogh's bold and brilliant masterpieces in oil on canvass, or ancient icons representing the Inca sun god Apu Inti, or twenty-five foot heliotropic giants following the path of Sol across the heavens. . . .  But, given the lateness of the hour, we won't go there tonight, stopping at the mere mention, and maybe seeding a dream.

The Thinleaf Sunflower
Kingdom:  Plantae — plants
  Subkingdom:  Tracheobionta — vascular plants
    Superdivision:  Spermatophyta — seed plants
      Division:  Magnoliophyta — flowering plants
        Class:  Magnoliopsida — dicotyledons
          Subclass:  Asteridae
            Order:  Asterales
              Family:  Asteraceae — aster
                Genus: Helianthus — sunflower
                  Species:  decapetalus

The Asian Lady Beetle
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Anthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleopetra
        Family: Coccinellidae
          Genus: Harmonia
            Species: axyridis

N O T E :  The Asian Lady Beetle is not the cute little ladybug popular among children in USA and Europe.  And the experiment that brought it to bear on aphids afflicting the groves and orchards of ag business has reportedly proved successful.      

Ladybug! Ladybug!
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire.
And your children are gone.

  All except one,
And that's little Ann,
For she crept under
The frying pan.



lilbat Sunflower
If you share my disdain for Wikipedia, then you might like the New World Encyclopedia, which represents the better way to do wiki.  On the surface, NWE's entry on the sunflower looks like Wikipedia, but a closer look reveals a deeper, more authorative entry with superior graphics design features.

lilbatThe Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle
Michigan State University's Extension, an outreach of the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, features a highly readable and smartly organized web about the Harmonia axyridis.

lilbatDining at the Black-Eyed Susan
This member of the Aster family hails from New Mexico.


Notices announcing new entries for Crow's Cottage Glossary and Compendium are sent by e-mail express to my list of family, friends, students, and fellow travelers. If you've come here by some other means, I invite you to write me at the address below so I can add you to the list.  It's a private list, shared with no one and guarded to the max by a flock of warrior crows.  Or protected by magic fairies with their tricks of illusion.  Aggressive or pacific — you choose — the guardians are in our service to ensure your privacy.

Ebenezer Bowles

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

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