The sunflower (Asteraceae) family is the largest plant family on earth. There are over 24,000 species in the sunflower family.There are two other species that come close in size to the sunflower. They are the Orchid family and the Legume family. Orchids have over 20,000 species and Legumes have around 18,000 species
There are many well know flowers that are in the sunflower family. Daisies, marigolds, chrysanthemums, zinnias, ragweeds, dandelions, cosmos, thistles, sagebrush and dahlias are just a few of them.
There are annuals, vines, shrubs, perennials and even trees in the sunflower family. They are used in gardens and parks as bedding plants, shrubs and ground cover.
The sunflower family is so varied in size that is amazing. Some of them such as the giant sunflower that can grow larger than a dinner plate contains thousands of seeds. The fleabane is less than 3 mm in diameter. That is just slightly larger than a pin head.
In some parts of the world the sunflower family accounts for 10-20 percent of the total flora in the area. That is quite unique in itself.
One fascinating fact about the sunflower family is that there are several species that grow only in one particular spot in the world. Some examples are as follows.
1. Silver Sword (Argyroxiphium) – grown in the island of Maui in Hawaii in the Haleakala crater.
2. The Lecocarpus pinnatifidus shrub – grown only on Santa Maria Island in the Galapagos Archipelage. It often grows on cinders and lava.
3. The Panamit daisy (Eneliopis covillei) – grown in the California Panamint Range.
4. The giant sea Dahlia is a shrubby daisy. It is grown on central California bluffs in the California Channel Islands.
5. The daisy tree is native to Mexico. It is a treelike sunflower that has a woody trunk and is very unusual.
6. The desert star is found in gravelly areas of the Colorado Desert. This is in southern California. The dainty daisy is about the size of a dime.
There are many herbs and vegetables in the sunflower family. It also contains numerous weed species. Sunflower seeds are moved on air currents and by means of hitchhiker seeds than attach themselves to other plants, animals and people.
Sunflowers have a very unique smell when crushed and this makes them easy to recognize. Some experts can tell what species they are from just by this smell alone.
Perhaps most importantly is the beauty of this family. It is of such color, size and variety that it certainly makes the earth a more colorful and beautiful place.