Sunflowers Journal

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Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.)

Sunflowers are perhaps one of the most charismatic plants we grow. The towering size reached by these enthusiastic overachieving plants can bring a smile to anyone's face. These flowers come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes: from almost white to red, with heights of up to 18 feet!

Members of the Compositae family, sunflowers are North American natives. Archeological evidence supports Native Americans cultivating sunflowers in the Four Corners area around 3000 BC; so domestication of sunflowers probably occurred before that of corn. Besides being grown for their beauty, sunflowers are grown commercially to produce sunflower oils and edible seeds.

Sunflowers were taken from their native North America to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 1500's. By the early 19th century, Russian breeding programs developed the plant further and Russian farmers grew over 2 million acres of sunflowers primarily for oil and seed. Only recently did the sunflower return to North America to become a commercial crop.

All plant life on earth in intimately linked to the sun. The scientific name of the sunflower, Helianthus, is derived from "helios" meaning "sun" and "anthos" meaning "flower." These large flowers indeed track the path of the sun's journey across the sky each day as if to underscore the importance of this ancient connection. Butterflies are attracted to the large showy sunflower heads, which also produce hundreds of edible seeds that attract birds. Cheerful sunflower faces have become symbols for optimism, productivity and beauty.

artwork by Henrique Burton © 1997 

text by Steve Sierigk

Tags: botanicals,