One of the things that you will notice about sunflowers is that they look very much like the sun, which explains their name. Apparently, they also need to have plenty of sun to survive. If you are thinking of planting sunflower in the garden or if you are simply curious to know more about this flower, we got you covered in the rest of this post.
Background and History
The scientific name of the common sunflower is Helianthus anuus. It comes from the Greek word helios, which means sun, and anthos, which means flower. Aside from etymology, the name is also derived from the way the flower behaves, acting as if it is an extension of the sun. During the day, you can see the sunflower’s head facing up and following the direction of the sun. At the end of the day, on the other hand, it bows down. Scientifically, this is a condition that is known as heliotropism.
Sunflowers have been around for a long time now, with the first sightings being in 3,000 BCE. At such time, it is popular because of its culinary and medicinal applications. In the 1500s, the Spanish conquerors have been exporting sunflower throughout the world. In Russia, Tsar Peter The Great introduced the flower in the country, after seeing it in The Netherlands. By the 19th century, the country has been planting two million acres of this flower annually. The Russians migrating in the United States are also the ones who brought sunflower in the country. This is where the sunflower became more popular for its commercial applications.
Sunflowers can mean many things to different people. Because of the fact that it follows the direction of the sun, it is a symbol of loyalty and admiration. The yellow color, on the other hand, is synonymous with happiness.
Physical Characteristics of Sunflower
An annual plant, the height can reach up to three meters. While there are few branches, it comes with a thick and erect central stem, which holds the flower. Its leaves are thin, broad, dark green, and have an approximate width of five to 30 centimeters. Under the ground, there is a main tap root and many secondary roots.
The first thing that you will notice about sunflowers is the flower itself. While yellow is the main color, there are also some that are red and orange. Its diameter can range from ten to 30 centimeters. There are 20 to 40 ray florets that surround that main floret in the flower head. It is also worth noting that every flower can contain up to 2,000 seeds.
Varieties of Sunflower
Whether you intend to plant it in a huge flower bed or in a small pot, there is a variety of sunflower that will be best. Here are some of the options that will confront you:
- American Giant
- Russian Mammoth
- Sundance Kid
- Little Becka
- Chocolate Cherry
- Moulin Rouge
- Teddy Bear
True to its name, this is one of the tallest varieties of sunflower, with a height that can reach more than 12 feet. Because of its height, it has extra-durable stalks that can hold flower petals that can be as large as 14 inches in diameter.
This sunflower can grow as tall as 15 feet while the flower can have a width that is up to one foot.
If you are looking for sunflower that is easy to grow, this is one option that should be on the top of your list. It also has an attractive appearance, making it a popular choice for flower shows.
If you have a small garden or if you intend to plant the sunflower in a pot, this is one of the dwarf varieties that can prove to be promising. Its average height will be only one to two feet.
With an average height of 12 to 16 inches, this is another variety that will be perfect if you are into container gardening.
This is another perfect variety for small gardens since its height is only three feet and the flowers are six inches. There are red inner petals with yellow halos on the outside, providing the head with a striking contrast.
This is the shortest sunflower that you can grow in containers. The blooms will grow up to four inches and the stems will not be taller than 16 inches.
If you want one that is unique, this sunflower will be an ideal choice. As the name says, the petals are chocolate burgundy.
Contrary to most bright yellow sunflowers, this variety is dark red in color. Its average height is only four feet, which also makes it good for small gardens.
At first look, you might think that this is not a sunflower. It is a double blooming variety, which makes the head denser. Its flower is big and puffy, which can reach a diameter of eight inches.
While it is the flower that most of you would notice first, when it comes to its medicinal applications, the seeds are the most useful. Here are some of its amazing benefits for your health:
- Improves Cardiovascular Health: Folate and Vitamin E are two of the main components of sunflower seeds that help them to strengthen the heart. One quarter of a cup will provide more than 60% of the daily Vitamin E dietary requirement. This can help in fighting free radicals that can make the heart weak.
- Strengthens the Bone: If you are afraid that your bones will be fragile and weak as you age, now is the time to increase your intake of sunflower seeds. It contains copper and magnesium to prevent the bone from weakening as a result of aging. To add, there is also Vitamin E that can be effective in easing pain due to arthritis.
- Keeps the Skin Youthful: Pollution and aging, among others, will cause skin damages. To help repair these damages, sunflower seeds contain Vitamin E that will help to make the skin radiant and youthful. Also, because it contains copper, it prevents discoloration and pigmentation of the skin.
- Eases Inflammation: Sunflower also contains anti-inflammatory properties. With this, it can be helpful in the prevention of problems like asthma, gastric ulcers, and joint pain, among others.
- Prevents Cancer: This is in relation to the improvement of the body’s immune response, which inhibits the growth of cancer cells. Because it is rich in fiber, it will also lessen the likelihood that you will be suffering from colon cancer. More so, selenium protects the cells from damage that could potentially lead to cancer.
- Improves Thyroid Health: This benefit is due to the high amount of selenium that you can find in sunflower seeds. This essential nutrient can prevent swelling and redness, making it critical for the improvement of the thyroid.
- Improves Mood: Being high in magnesium sulfate, sunflower seeds can be effective in regulating mood and in lessening the tendencies that you will exhibit symptoms of depression.
- Improves Nervous Health: This is a benefit that is related to the ability of magnesium sulfate to improve mood. It regulates the nerves and the muscles. Hence, this promotes relaxation and will prevent anxiety. It prevents the nerve cells from being overactive.
Uses and Applications
Aside from being an ornamental garden plant, you can use sunflower in more ways than one, such as through the following:
- Healthy Snack: This holds true for the sunflower seeds. They are not only delicious, but also healthy since it is a potent source of Vitamin A, protein, calcium, and iron, among others.
- Sunflower Oil: Upon the extraction of the seeds, you can produce sunflower oil, which has endless applications. You can use it in the kitchen, and more importantly, for a healthier body. It has an abundance of nutrients that can be beneficial for your health.
- Culinary Applications: You can fry or dry the seeds and use it in the kitchen. It has lots of protein, which makes it similar to meat. You can also add it to breads, cakes, salads, and soups. Even the petals will make a delicious and colorful addition to a salad.
- Commercial Applications: Big companies also make use of oil extracts from sunflower as a main ingredient in their products, mostly for paints and cosmetics.
- Bird Feeder: There are times when birds can be beneficial in the garden. They can be natural predators, allowing you to get rid of most common pests. With this, sunflower seeds can also make excellent feeders to encourage birds in the garden.
How to Plant Sunflowers
To grow sunflowers, start from healthy, disease-free seeds. Select the variety depending on the amount of space that you have. If you have a small garden, choose one that thrives well in pots or the dwarf varieties. To speed up germination and so that you won’t have to wait for too long, cover the seeds with a damp cloth. Wait for a few days. You can also use a finger nail clipper to open up the shell.
Now that the seeds are ready, choose the ideal location in the garden where you will plant the sunflower. Choose the sunniest spot. Ideally, it must receive up to eight hours of sun in a day. Keep it away from windy areas in the garden. It will also be good if there is a fence nearby, which will provide a place to tie the stems so that they will have additional support.
Next, prepare the soil. Check for the quality and make sure that it is well-draining. The soil should also not be hard and compact, providing the taproots with the room to grow. Dig holes on the soil at a depth of at least one inch and while making sure that there will be at least six inches of space between each plant. Sow the seeds directly on the holes that you have created. Cover it with soil and press firmly from the top.
If you are going to plant the seeds in a pot, make sure that you choose the right container. The depth and diameter should be large enough so that the roots will have the room that it needs to grow. Also, see to it that you will use a healthy soil. There should be holes at the bottom, which will allow water to pass through and will prevent the root from rotting. You can start the plant indoors and move it outdoors once it starts growing.
Common Pests and Diseases
Most sunflowers are strong and disease-resistant, and hence, growing them can be fairly easy, even for a novice gardener. Nonetheless, it can still be prone to some diseases, with some of the most common being verticillium wilt, rust, and downy mildew. When it comes to pests, on the other hand, some of the most common causes of infestation will include moths, aphids, and whiteflies. Squirrels and chipmunks can also dig sunflowers, so be sure to deal with them in the most effective manner that is possible.
How to Take Care of Sunflowers
Sunflowers require tender loving and care. To ensure that it will remain in its best condition, here are some of the most important things to keep in mind:
- The exposure of the plant to the sun makes it require more water to survive. Therefore, regular watering is a must, especially during the initial stages of growth. The soil needs to be moist, but never soaking wet.
- Aside from water, fertilizing will also help to provide the plant with the nutrients that are essential for its healthy survival. However, you will need to fertilize only when the quality of the soil is poor. Otherwise, there is no need. Overfertilizing will delay the flowering stage of the plant.
- To enrich the quality of the soil, it will also be good to add organic matter. Mulch and compost will not only improve the nutrients, but will also improve the ability to retain moisture.
- Perform a regular inspection of the sunflower, which will be an opportunity to have an early detection of potential problems. Take out unhealthy leaves to have an assurance that the problem will not spread to the other parts of the plant.
- If you plant the sunflower outdoors, it will also help to add stakes or supports. This is especially the case if you have a tall plant and if it is in a windy environment. A wind barrier will also help to prevent the plant from turning down.
- Birds can feed on the seeds of the sunflower, especially when you are drying them after harvest. To prevent this from happening, one thing that you can do is to cover it with a light cloth.
When the plant reaches maturity, you can harvest it. You can use it as a decorative piece at home, bouquet, ingredient for cooking, or extract the seeds to produce its oil. However, it is important that you time the harvest perfectly. You can cut the flower once it is open by at least 1/4. Be sure to use only clean scissors to prevent the transfer of infection. Place it immediately in water to retain freshness.
If the seed head is what you need, cut the head out once the back turn to yellow from green. Keep it in a dry and warm location as you wait for the disk to become dark brown. By this time, you are ready to take off the seeds. Dry, roast, or use them as you wish. Pay attention to the proper storage of the seed as well to ensure its freshness.
If you live in a place that receives an abundance of sunshine, sunflowers will make a great addition to the garden. It has bright and beautiful flowers that are sure to add life to the backyard. Fortunately, growing it is not much different from many other flowers. With the right environment and proper care, success can easily become evident.