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Fun Facts about Sunflowers

Updated on August 11, 2016
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill volunteers at community gardens & learns about gardening through the MD Native Plant Society & MD Master Gardening Program.

Helianthus annuus

I started this sunflower in an eggshell and passed it on to my mother-in-law, who planted it in her backyard. It's looking good!
I started this sunflower in an eggshell and passed it on to my mother-in-law, who planted it in her backyard. It's looking good! | Source

A Sunflower by Any Other Name ...

Young sunflowers face toward the east in the morning and the west at sunset. Like the French word tournesol, the Spanish word for sunflower, el girasol, is very apt, meaning "turns toward the sun."

Source

The French word for sunflower is tournesol, which literally means "turn with the sun" —and sunflowers do just that. At least the young plants do.

When their stems are supple, sunflower flower heads turn throughout the day, following the sun. As they mature, their stems harden, and the flowers eventually stop moving (MacKenzie).

The botanical name of the common sunflower is Helianthus annus.

Helianthus is derived from two Greek words, helio (sun) and anthos (flower). The word annus indicates that sunflowers are annual, only living for a single growing season. (Actually, some are perennials, but Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who gave the sunflower its scientific name, didn't know that!)


Sunflowers are easy to grow--even in the city!
Sunflowers are easy to grow--even in the city! | Source

How tall is the world's tallest sunflower? It's taller than "Snowzilla," a 25-foot Alaskan snowman you can see on YouTube.

It's taller than the "rare Italian tomato tree," too, which can produce vines that shoot up to 25 feet on a sturdy trellis (but probably not on a sunflower. Or a snowman.)

The World's Tallest Sunflower

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's tallest sunflower was measured in 2011 at 27 feet (8.23 meters). That's as tall as most two-story houses!

The sunflower was grown in Germany by Hans-Peter Schiffer, who beat his own 2009 record of 26.25 feet (8 meters).

This sunflower isn't REALLY the world's biggest--but it is big!

Sunflowers & the Great State of Kansas


Here's a pretty "volunteer" sunflower in our front yard.
Here's a pretty "volunteer" sunflower in our front yard. | Source

Sunflowers were first domesticated by Native Americans, who grew and harvested them thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans to North America. The Kansas River and, subsequently, the state of Kansas were named after the Kansa tribe of Native Americans.

The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas. Eleven known species grow there.

In summer and fall, sunflowers bloom throughout the Great Plains region of the state alongside goldenrod, which is a member of the same family, and other native plants ("Kansas State Flower").

Grinter's Sunflower Farm Near Lawrence, Kansas

A markerGrinter's Sunflower Farm -
24154 Stillwell Road, Lawrence, KS 66044, USA
get directions

Grinter's has been growing sunflowers since the '70s. Visitors can take pictures & even pick a few flowers! See krisgrinter.blogspot for details.

Sunflowers attract bees and other pollinators.
Sunflowers attract bees and other pollinators. | Source

A Bouquet of Thousands—in One "Flower"

Yes, the photo is upside down. But it just looks better to me this way.
Yes, the photo is upside down. But it just looks better to me this way. | Source

The daisy-like flower with yellow petals and a dark center that most of us think of as a sunflower isn't really one sunflower—it's hundreds of them, even thousands.

The brown-black centers are actually the flowers of a sunflower—the very small flowers.

These tiny flowers are all clustered together into one big disk-like center and surrounded, not by petals, but by ray flowers (Mackenzie).

The tiny flowers that make up the brown-black center go to seed after pollination. According to National Geographic's Edible, some flower heads produce as many as 8,000 seeds (330).

That's a lot of bird food!



More Than Just a Pretty Face

Sunflowers can be used as animal food, people food, sunblock and even fuel!
Sunflowers can be used as animal food, people food, sunblock and even fuel! | Source

Sunflowers are grown for an incredible number of reasons.

Uses for Sunflowers in the Home Garden

Sunflowers won't kill the grass or any other plants in your garden. The idea that sunflower seeds emit a hormone that inhibits plant growth is erroneous. It's the thick layer of fallen sunflower seed shells that kills plants near bird feeders. The fallen shells act as a sort of mulch. Once you rake it up, plants near your feeders will grow just fine again.

Home gardeners sometimes cultivate tall varieties of sunflowers as sunscreens or privacy screens near patios, decks, flowerbeds and vegetable gardens.

Growing sunflowers is also a fun way to attract butterflies and bees to your landscape, and it's an easy way to feed the squirrels and the birds that visit your yard in summer and fall.

Sunflowers are beautiful additions to a cutting garden, too.

In vegetable gardens, they may be used in place of corn to provide strong, attractive supports for pole beans. And you can use sunflowers as a trellis for other climbers too. Just be sure to plant the seeds deep enough and to select hybrids with exceptionally sturdy stalks.

A field of sunflowers near Centrale nucléaire de Saint Laurent des Eaux, France.
A field of sunflowers near Centrale nucléaire de Saint Laurent des Eaux, France. | Source
Sunflowers are primarily grown for their seeds and the oil from their seeds.
Sunflowers are primarily grown for their seeds and the oil from their seeds. | Source

You can use dried sunflower stalks as kindling like the Native Americans did.

If growing sunflowers for seed, you'll probably have to cover the heads with cheesecloth or netting as they begin to dry. Sunflower seeds are prime food for birds, squirrels and white-tailed deer.

Commercial Uses of Sunflowers

The top three producers of sunflowers are the Ukraine, Russia and the European Union. They are predicted to produce a combined 23,636 metric tons of sunflower seed in 2013. The U.S. alone will probably produce 1264 metric tons of sunflower seed in the same year ("Sunflower Statistics").

While some seeds are produced for human consumption in snack foods, smaller seeds are used in commercial bird foods. And sunflower meal is sometimes used as silage for commercially grown animals.

Sunflower seeds are also a popular source for cooking oil. And the oil from sunflowers has potential use in many manufacturing processes, including the production of detergents, pesticides, adhesive, fabric softener and lubricants. It may also have potential as fuel for diesel engines (Putnam).

Sunflowers in Pots? Yes!

Pots of sunflowers and marigolds liven the urban landscape in Singapore.
Pots of sunflowers and marigolds liven the urban landscape in Singapore. | Source

Dwarf Sunflowers

Dwarf sunflowers are bushy hybrids that grow from one to three feet tall and produce blooms three to five inches across (Mackenzie).

They're great for pots as well as small flowerbeds.

Varieties to try include 'Dwarf Teddy Bear,' 'Sunspot,' 'Yellow Pygmy,' 'Pacino', 'Big Smile,' and 'Music Box Mix.'

If you want sunflowers for a cutting garden, consider growing pollen-less hybrids for mess-free bouquets, such as 'Moonbright,' 'Sunbright,' 'Sunbeam,' and 'Sunrich' (Mackenzie).

Works Cited

Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Food Plants. DC: National Geographic, 2008.

"Kansas State Flower." 50 States.com. Marchex, Inc., 2013. Web.

MacKenzie, Jill. "Sunflowers." University of Minnesota Extension Service. Dec. 1999. Web.

Putnam, D.H. and others. "Alternative Field Crops Manual: Sunflower." University of Wisconsin Extension, 2013. Web.

"Sunflower Statistics." National Sunflower Association. National Sunflower Association, 2013. Web.

"Tallest Sunflower." Guinness World Records, 2013. Web.

© 2013 Jill Spencer

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    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 23 months ago from London, UK

      Interesting facts. There is much more to sunflowers than I thought.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Hi Venkatachari M, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I look forward to reading more of your hubs. All the best, Jill

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting facts about sunflower. Many amazing facts have been revealed by you. India also produces these sunflowers. Sunflower oil is the best hygienic cooking oil that we use daily.

      Voted up and beautiful. And thanks for following me in return.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Hey Roberta. We have about 30 sprouting now. This year we planted Russian Mammoth and two smaller varieties. I'm expected the squirrels to savage about 1/3 before they're full grown. lol Those critters love them! Thanks for stopping by. --Jill

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      There is just "something" about sunflowers, isn't there? This is a delightful--full of smiles as well as neat details on this little/big wonder. :)

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Hi sallybea! Coming from a photographer, that's a great compliment. Thanks!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      The Dirt Farmer

      This really is a very beautiful and informative hub. I have just planted two varieties of Dwarf Sunflowers and I am so looking forward to seeing how they turn out. The images in this hub are spectacular.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Sally

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the comments, everyone! Who's ready for Spring?

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      I love sunflowers. Great hub! I'm going to buy some sunflowers this spring, when they're open up. Nice tips!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      Awesome awesome thank you for highlighting this glorious flower. They are so beautiful each year. Ours were so tall and vibrant this summer.

      Angels are on the way to you this afternoon. ps

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      In the summer, we use a lot of sunflower seeds which are preferred by our wild birds. I love to see fields of sunflowers. They bring me so much joy.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Thanks for your input, Raimer Gel!

    • profile image

      Raimer Gel 2 years ago

      Some sunflowers do not follow the sun too.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Thanks for stopping by & commenting. This was a fun hub to write. All the best, Jill

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Having lived in Kansas for 15 years, I'm always attracted to Sunflower articles, even though I write family saga hubs! Small world! Hope you can stop by! ;-)

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Thanks so much for your kind words, prasetio30! And thanks for sharing the hub. --Jill

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Wow...amazing..I don't have much words to say...Only "beautiful". I love sun flowers and I learn something new here about this flowers. Good job, my friend. Thanks for writing and sharing with us, Voted up :-)

      Prasetio

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi Donna. We have someone nearby who does that too, not a whole field though. It is a treat to see. I should stop along the side of the road & get a few pics. Thanks for reading. --Jill

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 3 years ago from Central North Carolina

      A nearby farmer plants sunflowers alongside the road. It is like a gift to the community and I've had great fun photographing them.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      I hear you, Rose! Lots of our sunflowers have been attacked (that's the only word for it) by squirrels and birds. But the flowers that make it sure are a pleasure to look at. Thanks for commenting! --Jill

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi Seafarer Mama. You are obviously a lover of languages. How wonderful to see your valediction--namaste. It reminds me of the years I spent practicing hatha yoga. The instructor ended each class by placing her palms together and giving a slight bow with her head as she said the word. So charming & polite. Appreciate your comments! Thanks for stopping by. --Jill

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      Such a beautifully prepared article full of great information. I love sunflowers and I have grown them in the past but the birds liked them even more I'm afraid, lol. Excellent article! Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen Szklany Gault 3 years ago from New England

      Very lovely hub about my favorite flower in the world!

      Love learning about the Native Americans using the dried stems for kindling and your idea about using the tall stalks as trellises for pole beans and other climbing plants. :0)

    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen Szklany Gault 3 years ago from New England

      I love the way you put this hub together, and enjoyed all of the fascinating facts you shared with us. The pictures you included were beautiful and the video was fun to watch.

      Loved learning the French word for sunflower...and the Spanish (shame on me for never learning that one!) ~:0)

      Namaste!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      My grandpa always used to grow sunflowers when we lived in Wisconsin. I was fascinated as a kid watching their faces follow the sun. This is an excellent hub! Up votes, sharing and pinning.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi Thelma! Yes, the dwarf sunflowers are the sweetest things, some no more than a foot tall, but still with the big sunflower faces. Glad you stopped by! Have a good one, Jill

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

      Beautiful sunflowers! I have not seen sunflowers in the pots. I love sunflowers as they always bring smiles to my face and I love eating the seeds. Thanks for sharing this very informative hub. I learned a lot from this hub. Have a nice day!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Thanks for sharing, Glimmer Twin Fan! Appreciate it.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Gorgeous hub Jill! I love sunflowers. They just make me happy. I remember driving through Colorado and passing field after field of those happy "faces". Shared around.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi Deb! I learned several things while researching this, too. Appreciate your comments. Take care, Jill

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This article showed me how little I knew about sunflowers. Your information was excellent and well arranged. Thanks for the great botany lesson.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hey Patricia. Seems like just about everybody loves sunflowers. It's probably not too late to plant a few seeds at your new place. You could have sunflowers by fall! Hope you like your new home. (: All the best, Jill

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      You thoroughly covered this topic which is about a favorite flower of mine. Watching them grow and become the beauties they are is exciting to me. One year I planted a variety of them and was delighted with the results. I had planted them this year but moved so will miss out on them I suppose.

      thanks for sharing.

      Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi Marion. I've never heard of sunflower oil mouthwash. Wonderful! Thanks for stopping by & commenting.--Jill

    • marion langley profile image

      marion langley 3 years ago from The Study

      I LOVE sunflowers. The french name is just beautiful, thank-you for including it. Not only are they my favorite cut bouquet but I also mouthwash with sunflower seed oil, and enjoy eating the seeds year round. Such a great topic and excellently pictured. Voting up!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Faith. The light was just right that morning for taking pictures. Appreciate your feedback! --Jill

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      I really love sunflowers, so beautiful! This hub is so very beautiful and very informative too.

      Wow, your photography is stunning to say the least.

      Really enjoyed reading this beautiful hub.

      Voted up ++++ and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      I love them too Imogen. This evening, we were happy to discover three sunflower volunteers growing by the woods in our front yard. I can't wait to see their pretty faces! Thanks for stopping by, Jill

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 3 years ago from Southwest England

      I do love sunflowers, as you can see from my profile picture - they are a fantastic food source for insects, birds and people, and look beautiful too. Great hub thanks :)

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi Maren. I haven't seen that film but have heard it's good. Doesn't it star Helen Mirren? Am going to have to look for it online.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi purl3agony. Your experience with sunflowers sounds really messy! I wouldn't like that. Guess it's best to plant them out there in the hot sun away from the house! (And the cars.) (: Thanks for stopping by!

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Good info. I first learned about the flower following the sun from the film, The Calender Girls.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hey Suzie! Appreciate the votes & shares. So glad to have spotlighted your favorite flower!

      @ Heather--The dwarf plants are just the cutest things--and some of them have flower heads that are really big! Thanks for stopping by! (: Jill

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 3 years ago from USA

      So happy to see this hub :) I love sunflowers too, but have been hesitant to plant some in our yard. My parents once had a sunflower growing in their yard (from a accidentally dropped seed). The flower was beautiful, but attracted a lot of birds (and their droppings) to the side of the house :(

      Great hub! Always enjoy reading your articles!

    • HeatherH104 profile image

      HeatherH104 3 years ago from USA

      Great hub! I didn't know you could grow them in pots, that might be fun to try next year! :)

      Voted up and shared.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Jill,

      My favorite flower - thank you! Really interesting fun facts, the world's largest one sounds unbelievable! Such a beneficial and pretty flower that always makes me smile! Loved your upside down pic too along with all the others, stunning!

      Voted up +++ shared and pinned!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the share & thumbs up! This year, the deer have already gobbled our sunflowers up. I'll definitely have to plant more next year. Take care, Jill

    • Angelo52 profile image

      Angelo52 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Sunflowers are beautiful and a great food source for many animals. I used to grow them for the bird seed, a long time ago. Great article on this wonderful plant. Enjoyed reading it.

      Thumbs up and sharing.

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