I have long been fascinated by sunflowers. On my travels across the prairies of the Dakotas I loved to encounter sunflower fields with their collective bright yellow heads all aimed in the same direction.
It is generally known that sunflowers track the sun across the sky, from east to west. I wondered what happens after sunset, when the flowers would all be facing west. With no phototropism to guide it, how would they get ready for the eastern sunrise? Would they be caught off-guard in the morning and suddenly swing their heads back at the risk of floral whiplash? Or is there a gradual re-setting of the neck-stalk fibers back to an easterly gaze?
I thought I could answer this by capturing a nighttime movie of a sunflower field. I was pleased to learn that other people share my enjoyment of sunflowers and in fact there is a small family-farmer industry of growing sunflower fields for the purpose of providing a beautiful setting for photo shoots. Weddings and family photos are popular at such places, as well as individual portraits, making enticing promotional shots for whatever the personal business or interest.
I encountered one such field in Otsego MN, planted as one of a dozen or so by Fish Sunflowers, an activity sponsored by Fish Realty. Each field is timed to reach its peak bloom over successive weeks in the late summer and is open to the public for their enjoyment as a way for Fish to express their appreciation to the community. On the night I was there, many families were enjoying the setting. Most had prepared by dressing up for the photo opportunity; some had brought professional photographers, who were striking photographic gold during the beauty light preceding sunset.
My project was less flamboyant than the scenes created by families and artists at the props in the field: benches, tractors, antique cars, pianos, boats etc. I was able to find locations to place my cameras that did not intrude on those photo-shoot activities but captured a feeling of being in a rural setting while watching the beauty of the sky progress through its diurnal and nocturnal rhythms.
It turns out that sunflowers tracking the sun is ephemeral, it happens only during a particular growth phase, and when the blooms mature, they all face east; there is no more tracking. This field of sunflowers had reached that maturity. The mystery of what they do when they are left facing west at the end of a day of tracking, will have to wait for another day.
Here is my timelapse made from a night with the sunflowers.