A sunflower represents the Plant Exchange Blog for several reasons:
A field of South Dakota sunflowers smiles west at the end of the day. The flowers reset and face east in the morning. This plant movement is due to water pressure in cells of a stem segment below the flowerhead. Plants that move, how amazing!
Annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are common along riverbanks and road ditches here, often tall and branched with many large ray and disk flowers. Cultivated sunflowers often have single stalks with flowers at the tip. Sunflowers grow from a seed in the soil within a season and draw birds, butterflies, and other insects. What a contributing plant to the environment!
Sunflowers are from this part of the globe. Sunflowers, called the “Fourth Sister,” with the Three Sisters of corn, beans, and squash, were first domesticated in North and South America. Native Americans used sunflower oil for cooking and skin ailments and ate seeds. Dye was extracted from yellow petals, with seed dye for blue and black. Some of the commercial contributions are sunflower oil, seeds, stalks as livestock forage, and cut flowers! What an efficient plant!
This season, we planted four varieties of annual sunflowers in containers. The first container has begun to bloom. Plants are about two feet tall, and leaves are a medium green backdrop for the three-inch blooms. Annual sunflowers mature in about 80 days. Hot or cool days have slowed the growth of many plants this season. The photo was taken on a cool summer morning before bees, and other insects began to collect nectar and pollen.
Sunflowers intended for containers are usually shorter at maturity than ones in the flowerbed. The plant height is a fair proportion to most pots. When the sunflowers bloom, they are easily moved to a new location to see the flowers in bloom.
What simple, large-flowered, contributing plant sunflowers are!
Do you have a comment about growing sunflowers or enjoying them in nature?
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Sunflowers are not native here, but were temporarily popularized by Okies a long time ago. My grandparents lived in an Okie neighborhood in Santa Clara, and like many neighbors, grew a single big sunflower right off the edge of the front porch, which, among those suburban homes, were conveniently within view from the kitchen window. The prettier and more colorful sort that branch with many blooms were still uncommon at the time. Okie landscapes were somewhat modest and utilitarian, perhaps with a few vegetables growing right in the front garden to compensate for limited space within the suburban gardens in back. Lawns got rather brown during the drought in about 1977, but the single sunflowers were healthy and well watered all summer. My grandmother’s sunflower got rinse water from the laundry. Anyway, sunflowers were popular there at the time because Okies consulted with them about the weather. The foliage is remarkably responsive to humidity and temperature, and supposedly responsive to atmospheric pressure as well. I suppose that okies eventually became bored with the mild weather of the Santa Clara Valley, and realized that there was not much to consult with their sunflowers about. Weather does not change much through summer.
Thanks. Beautiful story.