GOSHEN COUNTY — With each bend of the country roads around southeastern Wyoming, one’s eyes become drenched with the vibrant yellow of a sea of sunflowers.
Sunflowers have had an extraordinary year this summer, fueled by historic rainfall and ideal growing temperatures. Their presence is prolific, each patch maneuvering for space along the sides of roads, doing their best to grab attention before their time comes to an end.
Across The Lens
Yoder resident Jess Oaks is a bit of a sunflower aficionado.
Earlier this month, Oaks captured a stunning photo of the sun setting above a field full of blooming sunflowers, the fiery orb weaving a yellow and orange tapestry out of the night sky and onto the petals.
In the background, the dark outline of Laramie Peak can be seen jutting out from the horizon and toward the heavens.
Getting out into nature and photographing scenes like this is a critical part of living life for Oaks.
“It’s one of those things that I think we get tunnel vision in our negative minds and all we see is negative,” she said. “So why not go out and see something beautiful?”
Oaks said her favorite part about shooting sunflowers is that every day is different and creates its own set of photographic challenges.
When the sun is shining, the sunflowers match the light with their own yellow intensity, emanating so brightly that one needs to put sunglasses to focus on a single patch.
On more cloudy days, the sunflowers create an interesting juxtaposition, providing a warm splash of color to an otherwise drab canvas.
When you have a view like Tonya Redmond does in Yoder, the weather conditions almost hardly matter.
Redmond looks out at an enormous patch of sunflowers from the back window of her farm home. The setting sun glistening on her eyes, Redmond describes seeing the field each morning as simply “fabulous.”
Help From Mother Earth
The Goshen County area is one of the most lucrative for growing sunflowers in Wyoming as it’s one of the warmest and most humid parts of the state.
Local farmer Noah Arnusch said this has been the best year for sunflowers he’s ever seen and credits the extensive rainfall that has fallen this year as the biggest reason why.
Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day agrees and said that along with it being a solid growing year in general, it’s been the best year for sunflowers he’s seen in recent memory.
He said a solid spring seed germination probably contributed to the rise of the yellow flowers, but also cautioned that perception becomes reality, as Wyoming is coming off two to three straight years of drought.
Still, Day admitted he was stunned seeing the overwhelming presence of sunflowers while driving from Cheyenne to Burns.
“It’s been a good year if you’re a sunflower,” he said.
On Thursday, he spent some time pruning the sunflowers around his house, met by a mob of “very angry, angry bees” for his efforts.
“It’s also a good year to be a bee,” he said.
Good For Crops Too
In addition to their own commercial benefits through seed, oil and flower, Oaks said sunflowers also help replenish the soil and serve as an excellent rotational crop between others like corn, yeast and wheat.
“They plant something that’s beneficial that puts stuff back into the soil that stuff like corn takes,” Oaks said. “There’s a lot of these crops that they’ll put in to make their corn yields for the next year.”
Corn in particular is a plant that needs a large amount of nitrogen, which sunflowers also rely on, but to a lesser degree. Redmond said the balance between the two keeps the ground producing nitrogen in a healthy manner, facilitating a true symbiotic relationship.
According to garden resource website thespruce.com, sunflowers thrive in environments where they receive fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium.
End Of An Era
Many patches of sunflowers are already past their peak, but some are still in full bloom.
Richmond said sunflowers only remain in peak bloom for about 10 days before they get too big for their britches. When sunflowers reach their peak, their flowers start drooping over because of their weighty heads and petals begin to shed.
“They get really really full and they’re all like right in that perfect spot,” Richmond said. “And they start getting too heavy.”
That makes for a small window for sunflower enthusiasts like Oaks to get their fix, whether through a camera lens or just looking.
But it’s also the sunflowers’ ephemeral nature that likely makes them so special in the first place.
For Oaks, there’s something about them she can’t quite put her finger on, making the giant blooms that much more intriguing to capture.
“There’s just something about them,” she said with a small smile, gazing out onto the sunflower field.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.