Facts About Sunflowers
Did you know that sunflowers date back to ancient times? Carbon dating of seeds found in North American clay date back nearly 3,000 years.
Did you ever wonder how sunflowers got their scientific name Helianthus? It comes from two words, Helios meaning sun, and Anthos, meaning flower. The sunflower often follows the sun and this characteristic is how got its name.
Early American natives used the sunflower long before corn and beans were brought to America. They ate the seeds, ground the small kernels into flour, extracted oil from seeds for their hair, and used the seeds, flower petals, and pollen to make dyes for face paint, cloths and baskets.
In Peru, the Aztecs worshiped sunflowers, they placed sunflower images made of gold in their temples and crowned princesses in the bright yellow flowers.
Sunflowers made their way to Europe in the early 1500’s. They were used for gifts carried by Spanish settlers returning home.
The great Russian ruler Peter the Great liked sunflowers so much when he saw them in Holland he took seeds back to Russia. By the 1700’s sunflower seeds were being eaten all over Russia.
In many parts of Europe sunflowers provide leaves for smoking, flower buds for salads, flowers for dyes, and oil for cooking.
Throughout the world folk medicine has depended on the sunflower for the oil in the seeds for coughs and teas made from stem parts.
As a native plant of North American no other plant has such global significance as the sunflower. From its beginning as a prairie weed the sunflower is now one of the worlds leading oil seed crops second only to soybeans. In 1966, an open pollinated Russian sunflower was brought to the United States. The Russian sunflower and others began the first sustained U.S. production of oil seed sunflowers. Some of the states with the highest growth output include, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas, and Texas. The former Soviet Union has the largest number of sunflower acres in the world second to Argentina.
Commercial sunflower crops are of two types. One, is to produce edible seeds and the other is oil seed crops. The large grey striped seeds used for eating make about 25% of sunflower crops and the other 75% is for sunflower oil. Worldwide more than five million metric tons of sunflowers seeds are grown each year. The best varieties developed in Russia contain about 50% oil and are superior quality for cooking. The oil from sunflower seeds is low in saturated fats and high in polyunsaturated fats.
In the last 13 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 “pollen-less” varieties bred for their use as cut flowers.
The tallest sunflower grown on record was 25 feet tall and was grown in the Netherlands.
The largest sunflower head on record measured 32 1/2 inches across its widest point and was grown in Canada.
The shortest mature sunflower on record was just over 2 inches tall and was grown in Oregon using the Bonsai technique.