Our Sunny friends, the Sunflower
Sunflowers, or as they are more scientifically named Helianthus annuus – annuus for annually grown, helia for sun, and anthus for flower – are one of the fastest growing plants alive today. They only require ninety to one hundred days from the time that they are first planted until they reach maturity, and are able to grow eight to twelve feet tall within six months time. Sunflowers grow on average to be an average height between five and twelve feet (1.5-3.5 m). But the tallest sunflower ever grown was in the Netherlands at 25 feet 5 inches tall, grown in 1986 by M. Heijmf.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of sunflowers is a phenomenon known as heliotropism, meaning that the flowering heads of this plant will follow the sun’s movement and change it’s orientation from east to west during the day. When conditions of unequal light exist the auxin, or a regulator of plant growth, accumulates inside of the stem on the shaded side of a plant. Thus causing the darker side of the plant to grow faster than the sundrenched side. Therefore bending the stem toward the sun. For optimum growth, sunflowers need to have access to full sunlight. And they will grow the best in fertile, mulched, moist, well-drained soil.
Wild sunflowers have small heads and small seeds and are highly branched, this is very contrary to the large seed head and single-stem of the domesticated sunflower. What would usually be called the flower on a sunflower is actually a composite flower, or a flower head of numerous small flowers, or florets, that are all crowded together. And even though sunflowers are usually seen as yellow, they can be a variety other of colors, such as, red, orange, and more.
Even though sunflowers are native to North America the former Soviet Union has grown the most sunflowers of any where. In fact the sunflower is the national flower of Russia.
In the past the sunflower was used by the Native Americans for food and oil. Sunflower seeds are rich in oil and is very useful in many ways today. There are some farmers who use it to feed their livestock. The whole seed of the Sunflower, or the fruit, are roasted, salted, and sold as a snack foods. Sunflowers can be processed into an alternative to peanut butter, called sun butter. Sunflower oil can be extracted from the seeds and used for cooking, is cheaper than olive oil, and contains a higher level of healthy monounsaturated fats than olive oil. Sunflower seed oil can also be used to produce margarine, as a carrier oil, and to make bio-diesel.
So whether you see those beautiful sun-seeking flowers growing wild and branchy on the roadside, or large and tall in a domesticated form, remember how special and useful they can be.