Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
Look! It’s Floyd and the sunflower stalk
FEATS: LIFE IMITATES FOLKTALE
BY LIANA BAYNE
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Floyd Jones’ garden was invaded about two months ago.
An army of pumpkin plants extended their curling stems and large leaves over the far right corner of the plot, taking over the land that should’ve belonged to green beans, cucumbers and corn.
The pumpkin platoon brought a large warrior with it, too: an 8-foot-tall sunflower plant whose stalk is as thick as the nearby apple tree’s.
Jones didn’t intentionally plant either the pumpkins or the sunflower, but both are now flourishing in his garden behind his Locust Grove home, where he lives with his wife, Michelle, and their teenage son.
The family has been renting the house for about 15 months, Michelle said. They lived in downtown Fredericksburg for almost 10 years and then spent a few years in Florida before coming back to the area. Floyd works for Prince William County in Manassas, and Michelle works at the International Parking Institute in Fredericksburg.
Landlords told the Joneses the backyard’s soil wasn’t very fertile and that they’d gotten only tomatoes to grow, along with three small apple trees.
But, Floyd said, “Wherever we live, I do a vegetable garden with at least tomatoes.”
This summer, his garden has yielded tomatoes, peppers, radishes, and a few green beans and cucumbers. He also plants flowers like zinnia to cut and bring inside the house for decoration.
He intended to plant more green beans and maybe four or five corn plants, until the pumpkins and sunflowers started popping up.
“I had big plans,” Floyd said. “But the sunflower and pumpkins took over.”
He planted sunflowers last summer, but they were a more “normal” height. At first this year, some similar sunflowers grew, and Floyd transferred them out of the vegetable bed to a different section of the yard. But then he noticed the huge, thick stalk.
“I was going to kill it,” he said. “I thought it was milkweed.”
But he never got around to it. Now, that plant towers over the 5-foot-9 Floyd, and has already produced more than 35 blooms.
Michelle did some research online. She found that tall sunflowers aren’t uncommon, but they normally boast only one bloom. Furthermore, multi-bloom sunflowers are also pretty common, but normally have between four and six blooms, not more than 30.
Virginia Tech horticulture professor Holly Scoggins suggested Floyd’s flower might be a kind of sunflower known as the mammoth grey stripe.
“Most types of bird seed have sunflower seeds. A bird probably dropped it,” Scoggins wrote in an email. “The seed-type sunflowers (as found in birdseed or people food) get 8 to 10 feet tall easily, and don’t require staking.”
But the photo she sent of a mammoth sunflower shows only one bloom, so Floyd still isn’t sure that’s what’s in his garden.
Folks at his workplace who are also gardening enthusiasts haven’t been able to figure it out either, he said, although they’ve enjoyed seeing cellphone pictures he brings to work.
And although the Jones family didn’t mean to have sunflowers or pumpkins this year, they’re going with it and taking advantage of what’s in their garden.
“I’ve been teasing and calling it the sunflower tree,” Michelle said. “It’s fun looking out and seeing it get bigger.”
Wednesday night, Floyd was already able to find four small green pumpkins growing at the base of the sunflower, with flowers on the vine indicating more pumpkins would soon be on the way.
He said he’ll probably let the neighborhood kids come over in the fall and choose a pumpkin to decorate.
And as for the sunflower? He’s glad he didn’t cut it down. Floyd plans to make the most of the new plant in his yard.
“I can’t wait to dry out the seeds this fall,” he said. “It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Liana Bayne: 540/374-5444