FLIRT WITH BIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES
By Cassy Aoyagi. Nothing says spring like the sunny faces of Coreopsis tinctoria and Sunflower – both are popular additions to Southern California gardens. While we may find both blooms equally attractive, they are not at all equal in the eyes of our bird and butterfly friends. The five- foot tall, 3-inch Sunflower blooms like to play the field, flirting with the butterflies in May, and then attracting goldfinches as their seeds dry.
Yes, when it comes to luring Angelinos of the fluttering and flying variety, the “common” Sunflower has uncommon powers. Believe it or not, Helianthus annuus also brings distinctive drama when designed into a space. Here are just a few of the trade-offs.
While Coreopsis tinctoria may bring a splash of sunshine to a design, its bright yellow petals and broad, dark red centers come with complications. Creating a bold look is difficult due to the ferny, open, Cosmo-like leaves of Coreopsis. Adding more plants to increase the floral drama creates holes in design come fall, as the annual needs to be cut down to the ground at the first frost.
There is nothing shy, delicate or retiring in Helianthus annuus. Even a small stand of sunflowers produces a strong visual effect. Obviously, its big, beautiful blooms bring a big bang to cut flower arrangements. They do the same in the garden – to get the color and beauty provided by just a few sunflowers, we need a multitude of Coreopsis.
In the case of this exchange, fortune truly does favor the bold – at least those who choose the big and brassy look of Helianthus annuus over timid-leafed Coreopsis. There is generosity in the bodacious beauty of sunflowers. Their expansive leaves create a weed deterring shade canopy, perfect for adding understory plants and sheltering tender caterpillar eggs.
Once Helianthus has given the butterflies and goldfinches its all, it will have yet another gift just for you. As annuals, sunflowers must also be cut back in the fall, but they do so with grace. Because sunflowers produce drama in small numbers, the hole left upon their departure is much smaller than that left by their non-native counterpart.