All About Sunflower

From: National Sunflower Association

All About Sunflower

While the vibrant, strong sunflower is a recognized worldwide for its beauty, it is also an important source of food. Sunflower oil is a valued and healthy vegetable oil and sunflower seeds are enjoyed as a healthy, tasty snack and nutritious ingredient to many foods.

Sunflower is an important agricultural crop choice for US producers in the northern plains of the Dakotas to the panhandle of Texas. Browse this complete site on US sunflower production to learn about the sturdy sunflower and the healthy products it provides.

National Sunflower Association

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A Brief History of Sunflowers

A Brief History of Sunflowers           

With the increasing interest in ornamental sunflowers and several million acres of land devoted to oilseed production, it’s hard to imagine sunflowers as an unpopular plant. The sunflower is one of only four major crops of global importance native to the United States (blueberry, cranberry, and pecan are the other three).


Native Americans in the U.S. have been using wild sunflower for food and medicine for at least 8,000 years. Archeological evidence suggests that Native Americans began cultivating and improving the sunflower as early as 2300 B.C. Thus, sunflower cultivation may predate cultivation of the “Three Sisters” of corn, beans and squash. The seeds of sunflower were usually roasted and ground into a fine meal for baking or used to thicken soups and stews. “Seed-balls”, similar to peanut butter, made from sunflower butter made a convenient carry-along food for traveling. Roasted sunflower hulls were steeped in boiling water to make a coffee-like beverage. Dye was extracted from hulls and petals. Face paint was made from dried petals and pollen. Oil, extracted from the ground seeds by boiling, provided many tribes with cooking oil and hair treatment. Medicinal uses included everything from wart removal to snake bite treatment to sunstroke treatment.     


When the colonists and explorers sent seed from the New World back to Europe, the sunflower was treated mainly as a curiosity and a garden flower. It was not used as an edible crop again until it reached Russia. In Russia, the Holy Orthodox Church forbade the use of many foods, including many rich in oil, during Lent and Advent. The Russians eagerly accepted the sunflower as an oil source that could be eaten without breaking the laws of the church. Russians also enjoyed sunflowers as a snack food. In the past 50 years, Russians have bred sunflowers for high oil content and improved disease resistance. In 1966, an open pollinated Russian bred cultivar was introduced into the U.S. This and other cultivars began the first sustained U.S. commercial production of the oil seed type of sunflower.                            

Hybrid sunflowers now dominate commercial production as well as ornamental sunflower varieties. Two researchers stand out as responsible for saving several open pollinated sunflowers. Charles Heiser, a retired botanist at Indiana University, is often referred to as “Mr. Sunflower” for his lifelong research on sunflower. His 1951 article is perhaps the most complete coverage of varieties cultivated by Native Americans. The seed he collected during his research career has been deposited in the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Plant Introduction Station at Iowa State University. This repository has over 2,000 sunflower varieties from around the world. Another individual, Gary Nabhan, was contracted by the USDA-ARS in the 1970’s to obtain Native American sunflower varieties. Thanks to him, the USDA-ARS collection now has over 20 sunflower varieties from Southwestern tribes. He subsequently founded Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit seed conservation organization which makes Native American crop seeds available to the public. At least 30 Native American sunflower varieties have been preserved through the USDA-ARS, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Seed Savers Exchange (in Decorah, IA), or private seed companies.


Unfortunately, many varieties have not yet been located and may be extinct. One variety that has survived over time is ‘Mammoth Russian’. It has been offered by seed companies for at least 120 years. It is known by many names such as ‘Russian Giant’, ‘Tall Russian’, ‘Russian Greystripe’, or simply ‘Mammoth’. An ornamental variety that has survived is Helianthus debilis ‘Italian White’. The sunflower gets its name from the Greek words helios meaning sun and anthos meaning flower. There are some 67 species within the Helianthus genus. Most oilseed and ornamental sunflowers are Helianthus annuus. In the last 10 years, three new types of sunflowers have been introduced into the North American market. The first new type has a sturdy central stem that produces multiple branches with many flowers. The result is a showy garden plant that is excellent for cutting. Staking is not required. The second type is a dwarf plant that reaches only 1 to 2 feet tall. These dwarf varieties are wonderful for use in small gardens and containers. The third type is the “pollenless” varieties bred for their use as cutflowers. Sunflower pollen stains just about anything the pollen contacts thus limiting their use as a cut flower. The pollenless types are cleaner and have a longer shelf life making them excellent cut flowers. Though seed may be produced on these new types, it is not large enough to bother saving.    


Sunflowers are easy to grow provided they have direct sun. Well-prepared, fertile soil will yield large flower heads and the meatiest seeds. Young seedlings can withstand light frosts so seeds can be planted before May 1. Tall growing varieties should be thinned to stand 2 to 2 1/2 feet apart in the garden and staked to help support the seedhead under windy conditions. With the wide assortment of old and new sunflower varieties available, surely one or more will find a way into your garden this spring.  


by Sherry Rindels, Department of Horticulture

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Roasted Salted Sunflower Seeds

     Roasted Salted Sunflower Seeds

Description: Another Fall favorite are roasted sunflower seeds. In the past year or so, they have become the rage. You find them everywhere, ball games, parties, outdoor activities or just an evening snacks. Such a great taste. It’s hard to believe how something this good can also be good for you. 


1 cup Sunflower Seeds
2 quarts Water
l /2cup Salt

Note: For salt free sunflower seeds, rinse seeds and go straight to step # 7.

Preparation Directions:

  1. Add water and salt in a  pot or saucepan.
  2. Rinse sunflower seeds and remove any plant and flowerhead matter.
  3. Add sunflower seeds.
  4. Bring water to a boil, then turn down to simmer.
  5. Simmer 1 to 1/1/2 hours.
  6. Drain on a paper towel until dry. Do not rinse.
  7. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  8. Spread seeds on a cookie sheetand bake for 25-30 minutes.
  9. Stir frequently.
  10. Remove from oven when they turn slightly brown.


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How To Grow Sunflowers

How To Grow Sunflowers

      How To Grow Sunflowers    

Charles T. Behnke

Sunflower is the common seed name for the genus Helianthus. The sunflower is native to North America, and was used by early North American Indians for food and pressed to make hair oil. Meal from processed seed has been used for livestock feed. Today, whole seeds are used for oil, bird seed and snacks. The seeds are a rich source of calcium plus 11 other minerals. The 50 percent fat composition is mostly polyunsaturated linoleic acid.


As a garden plant, the sunflower is valuable for forming a background screen. A rapid grower, it reaches a height of 8 to 12 feet in rich soil.

This rapid growth could cause competition with other garden plants, especially by shading. Sunflowers can be planted between groups of shrubs, particularly where these form a background. For smaller gardens, the multi-branched species are more suitable. Dwarf forms of 24 inches in height make a spectacular bed by themselves.

When growing sunflowers for bird food or human consumption, select the confectionery types over the oil types.


Sunflowers do best when grown on soils with adequate water-holding capacity, internal drainage and proper fertility. They will tolerate a wide range of soil types; however, one that is too high in nitrogen encourages excessive plant growth that will check maturity of the flower heads. Adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium are recommended, and, as with any garden activity, frequent soil tests are recommended to get good results. The plant’s roots go deep and spread extensively, so the sunflower can withstand some drought and nearby cultivation. Sunflowers should not be water stressed during the critical period; about 20 days before and after flowering.

Plant seed into moistened soil one to two inches deep, but no deeper than three inches. Space seed 12 inches apart in rows spaced 2 to 2 1/2 feet apart. Plants grown for large heads should be spaced farther apart or scattered around the garden.

In Ohio, planting can take place from early to mid-May. Seed bed soil temperature must be between 42 and 50 degrees F with temperatures above 50 degrees F preferable for germination to occur rapidly. Depending on variety and environmental factors, germination will occur in 7 to 12 days. Plants will mature in 80 to 90 days.

For the home situation, seed can be started in four-inch peat pots and transplanted outdoors. Transplants may grow taller and flower sooner than seed started plants. They should start to flower in ten weeks.

Weeds can be a problem for sunflowers. Weed control is practiced for the first four to five weeks after seed emergence. For the home garden, hand weeding and mulching are the best methods.

Diseases and Pests  

A common disease of sunflowers is Sclerotina or white mold, which causes stalk and head rots. Disease spores can live for many years in the soil. Other common diseases are downy mildew, rust and verticillium wilt. Sanitation and crop rotation should be considered for control in the home garden.

The sunflower head moth is the major insect pest. The moth attacks at flowering time with the larvae feeding on floral parts and tunneling through developing seed. Aphids and whiteflies also can be a problem.

Birds can be troublesome near harvest time. Seeds are exposed and the large flower head serves as a feeding perch. To deter birds, use frightening devices and human activity in the immediate area before damage is expected. Flower heads can be covered with plastic netting or cheesecloth.


Harvest begins in mid-September and can run into October. A check of the flower head will indicate maturity; florets in the center of the flower disk are shriveled, heads are downturned, and a lemon yellow color is on the backside. Pull a few seeds and split them with a knife to check if seed meat has filled. Poorly filled seeds may be due to a lack of pollinating insects.

To harvest, cut the seed head with about a foot of stem attached and hang in a warm, dry, well-ventilated, rodent and insect-free place. A paper bag with holes or cheesecloth can be placed over the heads to catch falling seeds as they drop during drying. Seed heads can be allowed to ripen on the plant, but cheesecloth or nylon netting will be needed for bird protection. Once the seed is dried, it can be rubbed easily from seed heads. Humidity levels must be kept low to prevent spoilage.

Roasting Seeds

Raw mature seeds may easily be prepared at home by covering unshelled seeds with salted water (2 qts. of water to 1/4 to 1/2 cups salt). Bring to a boil and simmer two hours or soak in a salt solution overnight. Drain and dry on absorbent paper.

Put sunflower seeds in a shallow pan in a 300 degree F oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Take out of oven and add one teaspoon of melted butter or margarine to one cup of seeds. Stir to coat. Put on an absorbent towel. Salt to taste.

Sunflower Species

Common Sunflower (H. annuus) – Includes the cultivars H. bismarkianus‘s, single yellow flower, 6 to 8 feet tall; H. citrinus, primrose yellow flowers, 6 to 8 feet tall; H. giganteus, Russian Giant, large, single yellow flower grown mainly for seeds, 10 to 12 feet tall.

Silverleaf Sunflower (H. argophyllus) – Stems and leaves covered with silky gray down, especially on younger growth. Flowers golden with purplish brown center, plants 5 to 6 feet tall. Silvery leaves used in fresh and dried flower arrangements.

Cucumberleaf Sunflower (H. debilis) -Four-foot plants with multiple branches. Excellent for cutting. Three-inch flowers have a purple disk and yellow rays.

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet Horticulture and Crop Science 2021 Coffey Rd., Columbus, Ohio 43210-1086


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Make way for the fun flowers

Make way for the fun flowers

For gardeners, the color’s the thing. (File/The Spokesman-Review )

Few flowers provide as much joy — and instant karma — as the homegrown sunflower.

Simple, straight and very yellow, it shoots up quickly, tilting its massive self this way and that, following the sun like some lumbering coquette.

At least, that’s the popular image of the annual officially known as Helianthus annuus, which comes from the Greek words helios for sun and anthos for flower.

But this North American native is far from common anymore.

Imagine petals cultivated in shades of cream, persimmon or apricot, with centers the color of dark chocolate, lime sorbet or cornbread.

“They’re just magical-looking, nothing like them,” says Ron Kushner of Lafayette Hill, Pa., who likes to plant many-hued foot-highs in the front of his garden border and 15-foot giants in the back.

The colors sound good enough to eat — and plenty of birds and animals love the seeds’ nutty taste. So do humans, especially baseball players and truck drivers.

“We call them spitting seeds,” says Larry Kleingartner, head of the National Sunflower Association in Bismarck, N.D.

For gardeners, color’s the thing, along with the plant’s romping growth rate and blossom size, 4 inches to a foot or more across.

So continue imagining here. You put those many-splendored blooms atop prickly green stalks that come thin as a toothbrush or thick as a baseball bat. The stalks span heights from about 12 inches to — stand back — a “Guinness Book of World Records” 25 feet. More commonly,

the tall ones top out at 12 or 15 feet.    

Plant a group and the effect is fantastic. You begin to understand why Rebecca Boylan and so many other gardeners are wild about sunflowers.

Boylan’s been growing different varieties for 19 years, since she and her husband moved to a house in Pottstown, Pa., with an acre and a half out back. She favors mixes like ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Pastiche,’ and even created a sunflower tepee in the yard for her son when he was little.

“Sunflowers grow like crazy. They’re very easy. You get instant gratification, and they’re such happy plants,” Boylan says, anthropomorphizing just a bit.

          But she may be onto something.

Kleingartner has a similar explanation for why we find this sunny classic so irresistible.

“It’s a very humanlike figure,” he says. “You’ve got the big leaves that look like arms, then you’ve got this face, this friendly, smiling, sunny face.

“I think that appeals to people, especially kids,” says Kleingartner, whose organization comprises 10,000 commercial sunflower-growers in the Upper Midwest and Kansas.

They grow wild sunflowers, which are smaller than the ornamental ones. They also have multiple branches and heads — and are still considered a weed by most farmers.

North American Indians originally cultivated sunflowers to make everything from cooking oil and a coffee-type drink to home remedies and dyes. The Teton Dakota liked to say that when the sunflowers were tall and blooming, the buffalo would be fat and the meat good.            

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Blackbirds and Sunflowers

N.D. mulling bill to control blackbirds

      3/22/2007, 1:44 a.m. EDT 


The Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Demand for healthier sunflower oil for potato chip frying is spurring a debate about whether millions of blackbirds should die to make it easier to raise the crop.

Demand is rising for NuSun, a sunflower variety that produces oil with less saturated fat and no trans fat, said John Sandbakken, international marketing director for the National Sunflower Association. Saturated and trans fats help clog arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.

One reason for NuSun’s increased popularity is the decision by the Frito-Lay snack food company to use NuSun oil to cook its major brands of potato chips, Sandbakken said. The company announced the switch in May 2006, and sunflower plantings need to rise by 600,000 acres next year to meet the new demand, he said.

But a roadblock to increased sunflower production is blackbirds, which feast on the oilseed crop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the birds cause about $10 million in damage each year to sunflowers in North Dakota, which produces about half of the nation’s sunflower output. Last year’s North Dakota sunflower crop was valued at $158 million.

The North Dakota Legislature is considering a bill to spend $79,500 to help in a federal effort to control blackbirds. One of the methods would involve baiting and killing the birds.

“We’re looking for any and all possible silver bullets out there to deal with this problem,” Sandbakken said.

State Sen. Terry Wanzek, a Jamestown Republican, saidhe once grew sunflowers, but hasn’t done so in a decade because blackbirds can eat away a farmer’s profit.

“We’ve surrendered,” he said. “The birds won.”

The money would pay for part-time workers, hired by the North Dakota Agriculture Department, who would help the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency with blackbird


The project would include common methods, including noise cannons that scare the blackbirds, as well as a new one — poisoning blackbirds with bait along gravel roads. The birds land on gravel roads to get the grit their gizzards need to help digest food.

Supporters of using poisoned bait say other control methods only move blackbirds from one field to another, while opponents say the poison will kill more than just blackbirds.   

Research in Louisiana and Texas of a similar blackbird baiting method in rice fields found that mourning doves and meadowlarks were most affected of all non-targeted birds. Both birds are prevalent in North Dakota, and the western meadowlark is the state bird.

“The chemical will interact with mourning doves and meadowlarks in Texas identically to a meadowlark and mourning dove in North Dakota,” said Kevin Johnson, an environmental contaminant specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency, which has opposed blackbird baiting programs in the past, does not take positions on state legislation, spokesman Ken Torkelson said.

The National Audubon Society is opposing the bill, said state director Genevieve Thompson.

“It just seems like a more integrated approach that does use nonlethal methods does make more sense,” she said.

George Linz, a research wildlife biologist at USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Bismarck, said blackbird control involves methods which include noise cannons; removing cattails, which provide habitat for blackbirds; and seeding small “decoy” sunflower plots to draw birds away from larger fields. 

 However, the tactics often cannot handle the onslaught of about 70 million blackbirds that come through the Northern Plains each year, Linz said.

Poisoning migratory birds is illegal, but Fish and Wildlife allows the killing of blackbirds without an agency permit if the birds are damaging or are about to damage crops, Johnson said.

The blackbird baiting program would include monitoring of other bird species. Linz said the bait would be put in trays, using woven wire to screen out pheasants, doves and other birds.

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Sun Flowers from Wikipedia

            Sun Flowers from Wikipedia        

                                               the free encyclopedia

The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant in the family Asteraceae, with a large flower head (inflorescence). The stem of the flower can grow up to 3 metres tall, with the flower head reaching 30 cm in diameter. The term “sunflower” is also used to refer to all plants of the genus Helianthus, many of which are perennial plants.


What is usually called the flower is actually a head (formally composite flower) of numerous flowers (florets) crowded together. The outer flowers are the ray florets and can be yellow, maroon, orange, or other colors, and are sterile. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets.

The florets within this cluster are arranged spirally. Typically each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in 1 direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower you may see 89 in one direction and 144 in the other.

The disc florets mature into what are traditionally called “sunflower seeds“, but are actually the fruit (an achene) of the plant. The true seeds are encased in an inedible husk.


Sunflowers in the bud stage exhibit heliotropism. At sunrise, the faces of most sunflowers are turned towards the east. Over the course of the day, they move to track the sun from east to west, while at night they return to an eastward orientation. This motion is performed by motor cells in the pulvinus, a flexible segment of the stem just below the bud. As the bud stage ends, the stem stiffens and the blooming stage is reached.

Sunflowers in the blooming stage are not heliotropic anymore. The stem has frozen, typically in an eastward orientation. The stem and leaves lose their green color.

The wild sunflower typically does not turn toward the sun; its flowering heads may face many directions when mature. However, the leaves typically exhibit some heliotropism.

Cultivation and uses

Sunflowers are native to the Americas, and were domesticated around 1000 B.C. The Incas used the sunflower as an image of their sun god. Gold images of the flower, as well as seeds, were taken back to Europe early in the 16th century.

To grow well, sunflowers need full sun. They grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil with a lot of mulch. In commercial planting, seeds are planted 45 cm (1.5′) apart and 2.5 cm (1″) deep.

Sunflower “whole seed” (fruit) is sold as snacks and can be processed into a peanut butter alternative, Sunbutter, especially in China, the United States, the Middle East and Europe. In Russia it is probably the most wide spread snack.[citation needed] It is also sold as food for birds and can be used directly in cooking and salads.

Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking (but is less cardiohealthy than olive oil), as a carrier oil and to produce biodiesel, for which it is less expensive than the olive product.

The cake remaining after the seeds have been processed for oil is used as a livestock feed. Some recently developed cultivars have drooping heads. These cultivars are less attractive to gardeners growing the flowers as ornamental plants, but appeal to farmers, because they reduce bird damage and losses from some plant diseases. There are also new breeds of sunflowers which are transgenic, so that they are resistant to some diseases.[citation needed] Sunflowers also produce latex and are the subject of experiments to improve their suitability as an alternative crop for producing hypoallergenic rubber. Additionally, the stem of a dead sunflower can dry out open wounds.[citation needed]

For farmers not intending to grow it, the sunflower is considered a noxious weed. The wild variety will grow unwanted in corn and soybean fields which can have a negative impact on yields.


Greek mythIn Greek mythology, a girl named Clytie fell in love with the sun god Apollo, and would do nothing but watch his chariot move across the sky. After nine days, she was transformed into a sunflower. However, the word “sunflower” and its cognates existed long before Helianthus annuus was brought to Europe, and it is thought that the myth (which is mentioned in Ovid‘s poem Metamorphoses) actually refers to heliotrope or marigold.


  • The sunflower is the state flower of the U.S. state of Kansas, and one of the city flowers of Kitakyushu, Japan.
  • The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosa) is related to the sunflower. The Mexican sunflower is Tithonia rotundifolia. False sunflower refers to plants of the genus Heliopsis.
  • Scientific literature reports, from 1567, that a 12 m (40′), traditional, single-head, sunflower plant was grown in Padua. The same seed lot grew almost 8 m (24′) at other times and places (e.g. Madrid). Much more recent feats (past score years) of over 8 m (25′) have been achieved in both Netherlands and Canada (Ontario).
  • The sunflower is often used as a symbol of green ideology, much as the red rose is a symbol of socialism or social democracy
  • National Sunflower Association
  • A farmer running his tractor and car with sunflower oil
  • William Blake’s poem, “Ah! The sunflower.”
  • Allen Ginsberg’s poem, “Sunflower Sutra.” Wikipedia                        
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