The sunflowers are in bloom at Barren Fork.
By Eugenia Jones
If you haven’t taken a drive (or a walk) out behind the Ranger Station just north of Whitley City to Barren Fork in the last few days, you need to put it at the top of your to-do list. You’ll want to do it now; because you definitely don’t want to miss the sunflowers.
Yes. Yes. Yes. The sunflowers are in bloom at Barren Fork.
This year, thanks to the efforts of folks from the United States Forest Service (USFS)/Stearns Ranger District and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFW), there are three patches of botanical sunshine at Barren Fork-instead of just one-for your viewing pleasure.
For this reporter, those sunflowers are my forever, year-round friends. They offer comfort in God’s seasons of life.
During the winter when days are short and sunshine quickly fades, I anticipate the summer return of my sunny yellow friends. I tell myself to hold on…hold on…because, after all, it really isn’t that long until sunshine will bloom in the field.
In spring, I watch quietly-reassuring myself the earth will be tilled and planted. I smile deep down inside knowing it won’t be long before my friends arrive to spread beauty and sunshine where they are planted. I, along with birds and bees, will welcome them as they push through the earth and stretch toward the sky.
In summer, my friends with their golden petals arrive in full glory. Their sunny, yellow faces smile and follow the sun as it crosses the sky. Their return means I’ve made it to another summer. Goldfinches and honey bees join me in rejoicing with the sunflowers of Barren Fork.
And then, the season of colored leaves draws nigh. I sigh, knowing my beautiful friends of summer must go. They do not depart quickly; but rather, they drop their petals slowly and contort their faces into brown withered orbs of twisted beauty pushing out a harvest of seeds for birds who must fatten up for the approaching days of winter.
All too soon, the days are short again and sunshine quickly fades. My sunny friends and I have completed another year. Full circle. I hold on…remembering….and looking forward to the approaching return of my sunflower friends. After all, it really isn’t that long until sunshine will bloom in the field.
The sunflowers at Barren Fork (and this year, at Rock Creek) are annual flowers planted by USFS and KDFW for public viewing and added diversity by attracting a variety of pollinators and bird species such as sparrows and finches.
According to USFS wildlife biologist, Joe Metzmeier, sunflowers can be planted to attract dove.
“Although, the sunflowers here in McCreary County are planted for viewing and diversity, sunflowers are a relatively easy and cheap way to make public dove fields,” Metzmeier noted.
According to Metzmeier, perennial native wildflowers, including butterfly weed and Black-eyed Susan, were planted along with this year’s annual sunflowers in some of the McCreary County locations. In a few years, Metzmeier anticipates native wildflower openings filled with colorful blooms in addition to the annual sunflower patches.
Sunflowers typically bloom from mid-summer to early fall. The scientific name (Helianthus annuus) comes from the Greek words helios (sun) and Anthos (flower). The flowers come in many colors, but the most common are bright yellow with brown centers that ripen into heavy heads filled with seeds. Most sunflowers mature in 85 to 95 days and can range in height from twelve inches to over sixteen feet. Sunflowers have many uses including use of the seeds for oil and food (by humans, birds, and livestock.) Native Americans used sunflowers to make clothing dye with yellow dye derived from the petals and black or blue dye from the seeds. Thick sunflower stems can be dried and used for winter kindling. (“Growing Sunflowers” by Catherine Boeckmann in “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” (https://www.almanac.com/plant/sunflowers)
According to Metzmeier, the sunflowers draw favorable attention from those who view them and can even provide the perfect backdrop for making cherished memories.
“One family had a reunion and decided to make a family portrait at one of the sunflower openings down on Rock Creek,” Metzmeier shared. “The family gathered around the matriarch and patriarch of the family as they sat on wooden chairs surrounded by sunflowers.”
Metzmeier also shared the tale of an elderly gentleman who once asked to pick a sunflower to take home to his wife of more than fifty years.
Hmmmm…you know what? Just between us, since sunflowers symbolize adoration, loyalty, and longevity, I hope somehow, someway that elderly gentleman managed to pluck a sunflower for his sweetheart. After all, I’d choose a hand-picked sunflower over roses any day. Wouldn’t you?