Nature's Other Solar Eclipse

On April 8, throngs of people will get an opportunity to see a spectacular solar eclipse. There are different types of eclipses - this one will be a total eclipse.

But before we jump into more on sun activity, let’s visit Mother Nature’s version of a solar eclipse, this one in the garden.

"Helianthus annuus" is the Solar Eclipse sunflower. 

This fancy sunflower has a double layer of brilliant yellow petals around its usual brown center. However, there is also a concentric ring of deep red/orange surrounding the brown center. This ring mimics the fiery solar flares seen during an eclipse. If you haven't planted sunflower seeds yet, it's not too late but we're getting close.

Sunflowers have a property called “heliotropism” which allows the face of the flower to follow the sun as it moves across the sky. Very cool!  I wish my solar panels did the same.

Garden impact

Ironically, sunflowers will not be in bloom during this upcoming eclipse, but there may be a slight impact to the rest of the garden.

As the moon, like a massive drape being pulled across the sky, darkens our view, the plants in the garden will begin to respond as if night is falling. This means two things happen: Our thirsty plants will refrain from taking up so much water and because the sun is missing in action, photosynthesis can’t happen. There will also be a slight drop in temperature. Of course, all this has minimal consequence for the garden.

Solar vernacular

I have been learning a lot of things and terms relating to solar activity. Why is this eclipse anticipated to be spectacular?

The answer has to do with the sun’s “cycle of activity,” which lasts for 11 years. During this cycle there is a point of “minimum activity” and a time of “maximum activity.” The eclipse will take place during a time of maximum activity. This means that solar flares will be grander!

Another phenomenon will be streamers rocketing out from the sun’s corona. The “corona” is the outermost atmosphere of the sun. “Streamers” are the outwardly extended structures of the corona. There will also be more powerful prominences (getting fancy now). A “prominence” is pink curls or loops radiating out from the sun. We might even see a “coronal mass ejection,” which is a massive eruption of solar material. Now you know!

Time to run outside

I’m confident your local resources can provide exact viewing times for your specific location. Ideally, you will be working in your garden, installing a new bed, preparing your soil or just admiring the emerging spring flora, daffodils and hyacinth, perhaps even tulips or budding forsythia and lilacs. Maybe you'll be planting Solar Eclipse sunflower seeds - it's not too late, but we're getting close!

Take off your gloves, grab your safety glasses and find a warm spot on your favorite boulder and enjoy the show. 


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