If you believe the old wives’ tale, the snow is going to be deep this winter.
As the saying goes, the snow will be as high as the sunflowers, and in the Sand Hills this year, the sunflowers are tall.
David Lott, a horticulturist with the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, said he’s heard reports that the sunflowers are like a yellow “blanket” in the Sand Hills. The Platte River Valley and surrounding areas also have an abundance of the flower.
“A lot of it comes back to having moisture this year compared with last year,” Lott said. “Sunflowers are so resilient, with a very established root system. They have a tap root that can go down deeper than a number of plants. When they have some chance for some extra moisture in subsequent seasons, they tend to flourish.”
While west-central Nebraska hasn’t seen enough moisture to come fully out of the drought, the late-season rains in July and August were enough to allow the sunflowers to flourish.
“They’ve just finally had some moisture and were able to do something with it for once. These plants are resilient and that’s why they’ve survived on the plains for as long as they have,” Lott said.
Sunflowers are a part of the asteraceae family, a diverse family of plants that Lott said lends well to a healthy environment. The natural sunflowers in the wild attract bees and other birds and insects that spread seeds and nectar, which then helps the environment flourish.
The plants have also been bred for sunflower oil and sunflower seeds, as a source of foods for humans for several centuries.
And Lott said if the old wives’ tale is correct, it will have a two-fold positive effect on Nebraska’s ecological system.
“Winters can be dry, even drier than summer. Those winter winds dry out pastures, dry out landscapes. When there’s no protection, snow provides a blanket. We need to have that. If the old wives’ tale is correct, and if we do get snow cover, that’s definitely a benefit,” he said.