There are about a half-dozen or so sunflowers that call North Dakota home. One of the more interesting sunflowers from an historical perspective is Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani).
Maximilian sunflower is named after German Prince Maximilian of Wied who lived from 1782-1867. Maximilian, an early European explorer, ethnologist, and naturalist, had already conducted an expedition to Brazil when he set off for an expedition to the interior of North America during the 1830s. He traveled up the Missouri River by a boat owned by the American Fur Company as far as Fort McKenzie in what is now Montana after stops at Fort Pierre and Fort Union at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Accompanying Maximilian on the trip was Swiss artist Karl Bodmer. The two spent the winter of 1833-1834 at Fort Clark across the river southwest of present-day Washburn. Some of you may have seen some of Bodmer’s artwork at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Washburn. And, if you are interested, Maximilian’s journals are still available in print.
Maximilian sunflower is a native perennial member of the Aster Family. It is rhizomatous, so generally grows in small patches. It grows from 3-6 feet tall and has short flower stalks produced in the upper axils of the leaves. Although the flowers resemble other sunflowers, this species can be easily identified by leaf characteristics. Maximilian sunflower is our only sunflower that produces leaves that are somewhat folded lengthwise and curved downward. The leaves are about 4-6 inches long with wavy margins and a rough upper surface.
Maximilian sunflower ranges mainly on prairies from Saskatchewan and Manitoba southward to Texas. It may be found across North Dakota but is more abundant eastward. It prefers moist soil such as low prairie, wet meadows, along rivers and streams, margins of sloughs, and the like.
So, as you travel about over the next few weeks, be on the lookout for Maximilian sunflower. It is named after one of the early explorers of our state. And of course, it is adding some interesting bright yellow color to the fall palette on the North Dakota landscape.