Sunflowers for “Wildlife Management”

A field full of tall, smiley-faced sunflowers is the perfect location for taking photos – of everything from marriage proposals to everyday selfies. And this field near Washington, D.C. will soon be swarming with cameras and people, some with ladders for better shots.

It’s a joyous place to visit during the two weeks of peak bloom, as everyone’s photos attest, but the sunflowers aren’t there for human enjoyment. The Maryland Department of Natural Resource plants them in spring on the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area and the “primary purpose is to provide a food source for mourning doves, as well as other wildlife species. In addition to mourning doves, sunflowers and sunflower seeds are a favorite food source for a host of other songbirds, mammals and pollinators. Sunflowers require pollination by insects, usually bees, to produce a seed crop. In turn, honeybees and many species of native bees benefit from the abundant nectar and pollen that sunflowers produce.”

But after the plants mature and dry up, mourning doves are hunted in this field. So for the wildlife, the results are let’s say mixed.

Photo credit: Visit Montgomery

Van Gogh Really Liked Sunflowers

You might say I prepared for sunflower season by attending the Van Gogh Immersive Experience, the exhibition combining digital art, virtual reality and text that I’d seen recommended on my Facebook feed. The “experience” paid a lot of attention to van Gogh’s sunflower paintings, with replicas of many of them on display (badly photographed by me and gathered above).

Signage tells us that van Gogh “painted 11 sunflower paintings, first in Paris in 1997. Living in Arles in 1888, he wrote his brother that he’s decorating his studio ‘with nothing but large sunflowers. I’ll work on it every morning, from sunrise, because the flowers wilt quickly and it will be a matter of doing the whole thing in one go.'”

Van Gogh used as many as 30 different colors in the sunflowers, sometimes picking up colors in vases and inverting them. He also illustrated several phases of sunflowers in one single bouquet. But he took liberties. “I do not invent the whole picture; on the contrary,  I find it all ready in nature, only it must be disentangled.”

At van Gogh’s funeral, the casket was adorned with sunflowers, which were then planted on his grave.

Several sunflowers were hung in van Gogh’s guest room, where Gaughan sometimes stayed and where he was surely inspired to create “The Painter of Sunflowers. ”

Other Plants van Gogh Liked

The “Experience” portrayed other botanical works, like the irises that van Gogh was also quite keen on.

How I Experienced It

Beyond the the floral art, I loved this wall-size replica of a room that van Gosh lived in and painted.

This moving bust of van Gogh was fun to watch.


The highlight for me and probably for everyone is this 360-degree moving reimagination of van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” a very cool place to sit for a while and enjoy the trippy show.

But overall, I was disappointed by the show, which costs $35.90 for adults, charged an extra $5 to rent a VR headset and $2 to park my soaking wet umbrella, and only took me 30 minutes to go through. The difficulty in finding the venue and the unfriendly staff I encountered when I got there just added to the letdown.

It could be that I’m just spoiled by the abundance of amazing free museums here in D.C. and expect a whole lot more for $35.90+$5 because it appears to be a success all over the world and the glowing reviews it’s collected from the media and customers makes me wonder: What’s wrong with me??