The plant was done flowering, but the seed heads retained a nice green color and had the lovely geometry seen in image #1. I picked a sample of the plant, using the pocket-knife I almost always carry (largely for such purposes as this).
Neither myself, my mother, nor my aunt were able to identify the plant. Now this was getting interesting, as my mother and aunt have a long history of gardening and interest in wildflowers. My aunt noted the material had the scent of sunflowers, but this only helped identify it to the family level, which the structure itself had already provided. I tucked the sample into my pocket, hoping to keep it intact until I could identify it at some later time. On returning home, I consulted the field guides I owned. I had no luck, since they all seem to focus on the most charismatic aspect of the wildflowers… usually, the flowers themselves.
As the plant material dried, I realized that I had collected very mature looking seeds of this unknown plant. I cleaned the seeds and stored them in a vial, hoping to identify them when I later had the chance to grow plants from them. Part of the motivation was also because I thought that the green seed heads would make a nice display in a vase, so I could use the plant as part of my home flower cutting garden.
…a year passes…
I am in the final stages of completing my PhD thesis and found my mind wandering. I was reading about the efforts to breed perennial versions of annual crops and to domesticate new perennial crops from wild plants. While looking through a document on the efforts to generate perennial seed crops, I saw a dried plant specimen of Silphium integrifolium (Deam's Rosinweed) and it struck a memory. A quick web-search later and I found an image of exactly what I discovered on the creekside. However, there are several potential species in the genus Silphium that live in the area and have the memorable seed heads, so it will still take growing the seeds I saved to identify the plant down to the species level.
The plant was being studied for its domestication potential as a new seed crop. I still think it would be a worthwhile project to domesticate it as green material for florist use. Domestication of a single plant species can easily go in multiple directions at once, as the plethora of cabbage/broccoli/etc. plants indicate.
Now that I know what the plant looks like and that it will produce some really nice flowers (image #2), I can better plan for where the plant will go in my garden next year.