|Sunflower field in Nebraska.|
I am native to North and South America, I follow the direction of the sun. Helianthus is my genus and my family is Asteraceae. The common variety that will grow in a field or your yard is known as Helianthus annuus. Flowers can range from a few inches to about a foot (.30 meters) in diameter. I am a sunflower. Helios means sun and anthos means flower, hence my name, sunflower.
|Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh|
My sister decorated her kitchen with sunflower decor, Van Gogh made a famous painting using the them, if you drive through the state of Nebraska or through the great plains, you will see fields and fields of sunflowers from your car window as you are zipping down the highway. Tourists enamored with Tuscany will conjure up pictures of sunflowers fields as they dream of their romantic getaway. (Those sunflowers originally came from North America.)
Sunflowers are a common and popular symbol. Their usual yellow stands for "sunniness" generally meaning happiness. No matter how hard we try to eradicate them, we usually get a bunch of volunteer wild sunflowers growing on the edges of our vegetable garden each year. I usually leave them be if they are getting bigger because they provide a lot of cover for the wild birds and also feed them with the delectable seed heads in the fall and winter. The stalks are tall and tough and sometimes a bit difficult to remove when clearing out the garden bed but I wind up liking them there because they are fascinating to watch grow. Right now we have some wild ones growing at least ten feet tall along the garden patch. The birds and bees are always flitting through them.
|Sunflower field in Tuscany|
I found out some interesting tidbits of information recently after staring at the sunflowers in my yard and deciding I wanted to learn more about them. All species of the sunflower are native to North America (explorers brought them to Italy in the 18th century where they were first used as ornamental plants), except for three species that are native to South America. Sunflower roots are used in herbal medicine, the leaves are used in teas, the flowers are used in dyes, and the stalks are used as fiber in paper and cloth. The seeds, of course are used as food for humans and animals and for oil, in grain products such as bread, or made into a butter like peanut butter.
The oil is considered a premium oil because of the mild flavor and light color, low saturated fat content. There are the black oil-seeded types (used as oil and bird feed) and striped seeded types, most often used as a snack. Sunflower roots are said to clean soil up from lead or arsenic contamination. Because they are known to clean up toxic substances, millions of them were planted in Japan after a tsunami destroyed the Fukushima nuclear reactor to help rid the ground of radiation poisoning.
Each sunflower is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers. The type of flower is a composite of disk flowers and ray flowers. The disk flowers are in the center and each disk flower makes one seed. The ray flowers are generally yellow and surround the middle containing the disk flowers.
The ray flowers can be fried up and cooked as food. Sunflowers are fast growers classed as annuals. When they are growing the emerging flower head follows the sun in the sky as it grows. After blooming it stops this behavior of following the direction of the sun, which is known as "heliotropism". At sunrise the heads will face east and by the time sunset arrives they will face west. They are generally easy to grow, requiring adequate water and a place that gets lots of sunshine in the garden. The French word for sunflower is tournesol, and it means 'turns-with-the sun', the Italian word is girasole, meaning sun-turner. Sunflower seeds which arise from the tiny disk flowers, are arranged in spirals in the flower head. The spirals in the head follow the Fibonacci sequence, which is an amazing mathematical formula found in many places in nature such as flowers, sea shells and in the proportions of living things.
|Sunflowers have disk flowers and ray flowers.|
|Spirals in a sunflower head|
Sunflowers are pretty amazing.