There are plenty of flowering plants that bask in summer sun, and there are even some that have been named for that propensity. In the Greek language, heli or helio is indicative of the sun, and in Latin, sol is the word given to the golden orb. Many plant names were constructed using Greek or Latin word roots to describe their particular affinity for the summer sun. A look at the botanical nomenclature of a plant may indicate this affinity.
Foremost, perhaps, is the sunflower itself, Helianthus annuus. Cultivated for centuries, it has become a valuable agricultural commodity, prized for its seeds and their high oil content. Sunflower seeds have become a healthy and available snack food across the country. Commercial birdseed suppliers also offer the seeds for larger avian species and include them in their feeder mixes.
The horticulturists have not neglected it either, and there are scores of selections that feature a wide range of floral features, from petal color to diminutive or giant stature. There are cultivars such as ‘Peach Passion,’ which produces loads of flowers in a lovely pale orange; ‘Jade,’ with its creamy lime petals and a light yellow center; and ‘Chianti,’ the tonal scheme of which is dark red. Both these latter selections are touted as being “pollenless,” so they won’t leave drifts of yellow powder on your tabletop if you cut them for use indoors. To grow sunflowers for seed production (either for the snack bar or to attract and feed the area birds), plant seeds of cultivars like ‘Mammoth Russian’ and ‘Russian Giant’. Any name that suggests larger-than-life proportions (like ‘Kong’) should produce towering plants and huge flower heads.
Another species in this genus is Helianthus tuberosus. As its name implies, it is known for its underground parts, the swollen stems or tubers that are full of sweet and starchy nutrition. One common name is Jerusalem artichoke, but another, sunchoke, more accurately recalls its preference for bright, sunny habitats. Pretty, dark-eyed yellow flowers top the five-foot (or more) plants and can be cut for bouquets as they mature the edible buried harvest.
Other sunny monikers belong to Heliopsis helianthoides, the ox-eye sunflower, a North American native that has been somewhat tamed for landscape uses where its yellow daisy-like flowers can offer an informal grace to the border. Several other species in the daisy family that employ this reference to the sun are Helipterum, Australian natives with very papery flowers, similar to the straw flowers that have become a florist staple, Helichrysum bracteatum (also from Australia and now classified in the genus Xerochrysum).
The botanical names (based on ancient languages to describe their attributes) also reflect some plants’ preferences or proclivities. Goldenrod, that native plant that gets blamed for hay fever attacks that should be attributed to pollen from the ragweed, is called Solidago in reference to its sunny coloration. Solandra maxima, or cup of gold, has large, buttery yellow flowers, as well. Look to their linguistic roots, and plant a sunflower, one of its relatives, or any of these plants that have been named for their bright coloration to push back the gloom of the coastal fogs.
• Start seed for your giant pumpkin this month. Next month, pick one fruit to concentrate the plant’s energies, pinching out any others.
• Monitor soil moisture often and water accordingly. Inland gardens will need lots more than those still locked under the “June gloom” at the coast.
• Cover early fruiting shrubs and trees with bird netting to save the crop for your family.
• Control mosquitoes with fish in water gardens, or Bt “dunks” in smaller containers.
• Watch for giant whitefly outbreaks. Hose off and apply worm castings on the soil.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.