Shedding Light on Sunflowers

Things You Didn’t Know About Sunflowers

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs


            There isn’t a flower around that makes one smile more than the sunflower. Known for their bright yellow petals, delicious seeds and incredible height, sunflowers are one of the most popular plants around. Sunflowers are seen in gardens, fields, cut arrangements, paintings and the list goes on – they are obviously very well-known; however, there are some incredibly intriguing facts about this beauty that most people do not know. So let us shed some (more) light on this glorious specimen for you!

            The sunflower or Helianthus, gets its name from the word ‘Helia’ meaning sun and ‘Anthus’ for flower. Its name is also unique as the sunFLOWER is the only flower with the word ‘flower’ in its name! Sunflowers are said to be symbols of faith, loyalty and adoration; they clearly adore the sun as they use a process called heliotropism. Heliotropism is a plant process that causes the plant to follow the movement of the sun across the sky.

            Aside from providing satisfying seeds for people and wildlife, sunflower oil has also proved to be very useful for a number of purposes. Sunflower oil can be used to soften leather, as a hair conditioner, a cooking oil and can even soothe wounds. The oil can also be used as an organic component in bio-diesel fuel. It also has been used in animal feed as the sunflower oil is very rich in calcium and iron as well as containing vitamin A and vitamin D.

            One of the most noticeable characteristics of the sunflower is of course its height. They are one of the fastest growing plants and to say that they grow tall is an understatement. On average the sunflower can grow up to 8-12 feet within a six-month period! The world record for the tallest sunflower was set in the summer of 2014; Hans-Peter Schiffer of Germany grew a sunflower that reached a height of 30 feet 1 inch! This sunflower was so tall that it even required its own scaffold! Aside from the height of the plant itself, the sunflower blossom is known to be quite large as well. Measuring from the tip of the outer petal on one side to the tip of the outer petal on the other side, the largest sunflower head on record was grown by Emily Martin in British Columbia in 1983. This massive flower head measured 32 ¼ inches in diameter!

            Speaking of their flower heads, did you know that the sunflower is actually not just one flower, but is actually made up of thousands of smaller flowers? The yellow outer petals do not reproduce but the florets in the center (where you find sunflower seeds) have both male and female sex organs and can self-pollinate. Reproduction can also occur by the pollen being dispersed by the wind or traveling with nature’s pollinators. Even when the seeds are gone the sunflower still has a use! Believe it or not, the sunflower head can be used as a disposable scrubbing pad. When your household scrubbing tools just aren’t cutting it, the sunflower head is sturdy enough to get the job done.

            It’s clear to see that sunflowers are more than just aesthetically pleasing and agriculturally delightful. They are so much more than meets the eye! If you are looking to grow the next world’s tallest sunflower, make sure you grow it from seed and pay attention to the variety as each one can reach different heights. If you don’t need the height but still adore the plant, be sure to plant it in full sun and well drained soil. With sunflowers in your garden you'll be able to make yellow dye or homemade soap; you could scrub your kitchen, chow down on the seeds or simply just enjoy this absolutely glorious plant that, no matter how down you're feeling, will always make you smile.