Many gardeners when they hear the word sunflower think of children. After all sunflower seeds are easy for small hands to work with and sunflowers germinate and grow quickly which appeals to the patience level of many small children. Tall varieties of sunflowers can even be planted in a large circle and turned into a “house” for kids to play in during the summer. There is no doubt that growing sunflowers or any other plant with your kids is a fun activity but don’t sell sunflowers short…they’re not just for kids!
Sunflowers are native to North and South America and native peoples harvested the seed as a food source more than 1,000 years ago. As a matter of fact, sunflowers are classified both as a flower and a vegetable and while sunflowers are the state flower of Kansas the majority of the more than 1.5 million acres of sunflowers planted in 2014 were in the state of North Dakota. We’re all familiar with the iconic sunflower that is 10 feet tall with yellow petals and a brown center but there are actually more than 70 varieties of sunflower that come in colors such as red and white as well as yellow.
Whether you need to fill a container, create a dramatic background planting or build a temporary hedge there is a sunflower for the job. In addition to the aforementioned giants there are varieties as small as 18 inches in height. They should be planted after all danger of frost has passed and they are not picky about the soil conditions although you should anticipate fertilizing them monthly and giving them extra water during dry spells. Sunflowers are rarely bothered by pests or diseases but they are very attractive to our feathered friends; each sunflower bloom has 1,000 to 2,000 seeds. They also make an excellent cut flower but be sure to harvest them in the morning or they will wilt after you cut them.
Sunflowers also called Helianthus, received their name from a trait known as heliotropism. Prior to blooming the flower buds will always seek out and eventually face towards the sun but once they start blooming they will face east. Finally, sunflowers are not just beautiful but they can serve an even more important purpose. They are good at absorbing toxins in the soil so millions of sunflowers have been planted in Japan to help absorb radiation from the destroyed reactors of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
So, after reading this article do you really think Sunflowers are just for kids?
Photo courtesy of Jill Mazur.