If there is one flower that is unmistakeable to nearly everyone, it is the cheerful sunflower. Not only is the sunflower great to look at, as it gracefully turns its head to follow the sun each day, the uses of sunflowers are seemingly endless. There are many different kinds of sunflowers but each share the characteristic look we associate with the sunflower - a tall stem with a large flower on top, typically yellow. On our site you will learn many interesting facts about sunflowers, explore sunflower farming and products and recognize how sunflowers have inspired everything from festivals to art.
The sunflower has a tall and thick stem crowned by what seems like a single giant flower. Interestingly, this flower is no flower at all but a constellation made up of hundreds of small flowers called the head. Although the sunflower head resembles a huge flower with yellow petals and a brown centre, it is actually the brown that is the constellation of flowers, with the yellow leaves acting more as a protectant to the flowers during the flowering and seed development phases. A sunflower can grow to become well over 10 feet (3 meters) tall and the head can become quite wide.
The flowers in the centre of the sunflower will over time turn into seeds - the fruits of the sunflower. These seeds can of course be used to plant new sunflowers, but they are also edible and enjoyed by many as snacks. Sold in small bags at your local grocery store, sunflower seeds can be eaten as they are, processed in food products or added to salads for nutrition and a great taste. The sunflower seed is also a common source of food for birds and can be pruchased as bird seed. Sunflower seeds provide great nutrition if you have domestic birds or wish to attract wild birds to your feeders or general surroundings. Sunflower seeds are simply a great snack, for everyone.
If pressed, sunflower seeds will give you sunflower oil. This oil can be used for many purposes and ongoing research is mapping new and improved uses every day. First of all, sunflower oil is great in cooking and will give food a very mild but distinct taste, similar to mild olive oils. Sunflower oil can also be transformed into lubricants for engine parts and can even work as a fuel for engines. The greatest part is that the sunflower is very easy to grow which makes sunflower oil less expensive to produce than olive oil. It has been speculated that someday, oil from the sunflower could dominate the fuel business. Recent research is heavy into experimentation with making plastics and rubber out of ordinary sunflower oil. Check out more uses on the sunflower oil page.
At home the sunflower is a great plant to grow since it more or less cares for itself with a modicum of attention from the gardener. The sunflower's cheery facade plus its sheer height makes it an awesome plant that everybody will enjoy, either in the vegetable garden or at the back of a flower bed. The sunflower is often planted as an ornamental in the garden, and different varieties have been developed to suit the purpose you require - either for an abundance of seeds, for a specific height in the garden bed, for looks of the flower head alone or for drying and flower arranging. Check out your local garden centre or seed catalogue to choose a variety that suits your needs, and be sure to visit our red sunflower page to learn more.
The height of the sunflower will be quite big before the actual head will start to form. At first the head will look more like a great big bud but eventually it will open up and the flower will show itself. The yellow crowning leaves of a fully grown sunflower are at first used to cover and protect the actual flowers, the brown centre. Once open the head will start to follow the sun while it is moving across the sky, getting as much sun as possible. The flowers in the centre of the sunflower will then start to grow fruits, sunflower seeds, and after a while these seeds will loosen and scatter across the ground. Once that is done, the life cycle of the sunflower is complete and it will eventually wilt and die so that the new seeds can grow to become sunflowers in the following growing season.
The giant sunflower is nothing more than a huge variety of sunflower, but wow, what a sunflower! The giant sunflower is a lot higher and larger that the common sunflower, more than twice the size in every way. Growing these is quite a challenge and therefore a lot of hobby botanists plant and nuture them to their stratospheric dimensions to prove their expertise. The giant sunflower is sometimes grown as a wall, a very good looking and original wall - visit our giant sunflower page to learn more!
Growing sunflowers is not as difficult as it might seem, with a few considerations taken into account. Importantly, you need to plan where you plant your sunflowers because they will need full use of the sun during the entire day to grow successfully. Many people grow sunflowers close to walls since the sunflower can be quite sensitive when it comes to the wind, being such a tall plant with a relatively thin stem. But planting close to a wall will unfortunately come at a loss in the amount of sunlight available to the sunflower. We'll explore this in more detail on our sunflower care page.