The sunflower (Helianthus Annuus) begins to produce large blossoms in July. Numerous varieties range in height from 8 to 15 feet but dwarf cultivars produce tiny 1- to 3-foot-tall plants. Flowers appear in shades of yellow, orange, bronze and white. Widely grown for its seed production, the sunflower produces excellent cut flowers and adds color to any landscape setting.
The history of the sunflower dates back 3,000 years when Native Americans used the flower seeds as a food source. Lewis and Clark mentioned the sunflower and its use as a food staple in their journals. The plant was introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 1500s and began to be widely cultivated. Commercial cultivation of the oil began in 1830, according to the National Sunflower Association.
Flower-Heads and the Sun
The buds of the sunflower plant follow the sun as it moves across the sky. Each bud gradually turns to face the sunlight. When the bud bursts into a flower it only faces east and never moves again. It is believed that the flower-head faces this way to avoid sun-scald that it might receive from facing west or south.
Foliage and Stems
The foliage and stems of the sunflower plant have tiny hairs. The hairlike structures serve to discourage animals from feeding on the plant. The small hairs also help to limit water evaporation from the plant's foliage during periods of drought.
Birds and Butterflies
Butterflies, especially the large monarch butterflies, enjoy feeding on the nectar of the sunflower. The large heads provide ample landing room for the large insects during their fall migration. Birds adore feeding on sunflower seeds. The seeds provide valuable nutrients that the birds require for a balanced diet.
Sunflower plants grow easily from seed. The plant prefers well-draining soil with a planting location in full sunlight. The larger sunflower varieties do not do well in sandy soil because they can easily tip over in high winds. They prefer soil with a high organic content that they can sink their root system into. In the fall, sunflower seeds are easily harvested from the flower-heads for planting the following spring.