Four tall Nantahala sunflowers and the bugs who love them

the river 5

The Nantahala river runs back and forth across seven bridges on a stretch of Wayah Road where for about five miles it is either to one’s left or right with high walls of rock and vegetation to the opposite side.  On either side of the road, as one travels holding one’s breath trying to stay on the proper lane going at a speed of between 25 to 35 miles an hour, bright yellow sunflowers seem to beckon us to take our mind off the road for a minute and pay attention.

The trouble is, they all seem to look alike.  I have been fascinated by these sunflowers for years and make a game of naming them as I try to keep an eye on the road.  They are all on tall plants, and from a distance they do look alike, all yellow petals with a disc in the middle.

As is usual in this part of the mountains, here and there one can find places no bigger than to park a car or two and stop.  If one does and wanders over to one of these sunflower plants, the first thing one notices it is that the bugs simply cannot resist them.  That is why I have been mulling over writing this blog and featuring the four sunflowers.  Of course, I plan to write each individual plant.  This blog entry is simply to introduce them and their pollinators.

helianthus microcephalus w bugs_02

This is what I mean.  Not one but two little bugs (a soldier beetle and a bumble bee) on these Small-Headed Sunflowers (Helianthus microsephalus).  I will introduce each of the sunflowers seeming to pose for us with a different bug:

Bumble bee on Bear's foot

Bumble bee on Bear’s foot

Smallanthus uvedalius

Honey bee on Green-Headed Sunflower

Honey bee on Green-Headed Sunflower

Rudbeckia laciniata – also known as Cutleaf coneflower

Soldier Beetle on Small-Headed Sunflower

Soldier Beetle on Small-Headed Sunflower

Helianthus microcephalus

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Woodland Sunflower

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Woodland Sunflower

Helianthus divaricatus

 There are other yellow sunflowers in the area besides these four beauties, but these are the tallest and more numerous.

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