The sight of sunflowers catching rainbow sunbeams through their petals is wonderfully uplifting. They seem to radiate light and colour throughout the summer months.
The name is derived from the shape of the flowering ‘head’, which has a large circular centre surrounded by bright yellow petals reminiscent of sunbeams or flames.
The flower head itself consists of many individual flowers which are a delight to bees. These tiny flowers within each flower head then mature into a huge number of nutritious seeds; which in turn feed birds and animals.
Varieties of sunflower
There is a vast array of sunflower varieties, some are perfectly developed for agriculture, grown for animal feed, for oil production or for human consumption in factory food production or snacks.
There are plentiful choices in beautiful sunflower blooms too, some to admire for their decorative colours and delicate petals, others are incredibly tall, perfect for sunflower growing competitions. Starting with a rare type, here’s just a few varieties.
Helianthus schweinitzii sunflower
This is thought to be the rarest variety of sunflower.
Its common name is Steinitz’s sunflower. It is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). It is one of the rarest species of sunflower in the United States.
These sunflowers are some of the tallest available, typically growing to between 12 and 14 feet. Their flower heads are equally impressive, spanning 16 inches across in a beautifully dazzling shade of bright yellow with a deep orange center.
American Giant Hybrid
This variety is a stunning sunflower. It is the most popularly used sunflower in growing competitions, as it grows to be the tallest, typically between 10 and 16 feet sometimes more.
This flower has a variety of earth colour tones as you might expect from the name, Earthwalker is an easy-to-grow sunflower, it will grow up to 6-9 feet tall, and can produce many beautiful flower heads.
Sunflowers are a remarkably versatile plant and they are grown on a commercial scale in huge fields for their seeds which can be eaten raw or compressed to make sunflower oil.
They can grow to heights between 1.5 and 3 meters (5-12 feet). Their fibrous leaves are also used as cattlefeed and in paper production.
The first tip is regarding support. Sunflowers can grow to an enormous size depending upon the variation and care the plant receives. The tallest sunflowers will need lots of extra support.
Growing against a fence or a wall suits them well. Using a trellis or pole will be useful to hold up the stem and avoid damage, those with a heavy head will need more special support.
Watering care for sunflowers is probably not as it seems, they don’t respond well to over watering. They like well drained soil which will avoid root rot.
Feeding. They like well nourished soil, it takes a lot of nourishment to grow tall and strong. If the soil is not rich enough they will need extra supplements such as natural fertiliser or a good quality compost scattered around the plant when in position in the garden.
Temperature. They love heat and are very tolerant in hot countries. Try to place them in a sunny position if possible where they will thrive in a well lit place.
Soil. Sunflowers enjoy a good loose soil with lots of space for root growth, well drained and with a slightly acidic PH balance, although, unless it’s to be a winning exhibit, don’t worry too much because they are quite tolerant.
An easy to care for plant with a wide range of colours and sizes depending on the variety and always beautiful.
History and Origins
The sunflower is the State flower of Kansas in the USA. It is also the National flower of Ukraine. In Native American Symbolism, the sunflower is used in summer festivals as a symbol of bounty, warmth and a life-giving force. It is native to North America and was first grown as a crop by indigenous tribes over 4,500 years ago.
Native Americans cultivated the sunflower from its original bushy, multi-headed type to produce a single-stemmed plant bearing a larger flower. Not only did they use the seeds for milling flour and mixing with other seeds for eating as snacks or added to bread they used the oils to cook with and in other ways too.
The sunflower’s oils and pigments were used as a sunscreen or the base for mixing a purple dye for skin, hair or textile decoration, while the plant’s sturdy, fibrous stem was exploited in construction.
There has been a common misconception that sunflowers always face the sun, as invariably huge fields of sunflowers all appear to be facing in the same direction. However, studies have now disproved this theory.
A simple bunch of sunflowers in a vase became the inspiration for a whole series of paintings in the 1880’s by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh.
To this day, sunflowers remain a popular subject within art and design. The original title, (in French: Tournesols) is the name of a series of still life paintings by Vincent van Gogh.
The first in the series, in Paris in 1887, depicts the sunflowers lying on the ground, while the second set, made a year later in Arles, shows a bouquet of sunflowers in a vase.
Eight months later van Gogh hoped to welcome and make an impression on Gauguin again with Sunflowers, now part of the painted Décoration for the Yellow House that he prepared for the guestroom of his home in Arles, where Gauguin was supposed to stay.
He later imagined the two major versions as wings of the Berceuse Triptych, and finally he included them in his Les XX in Bruxelles exhibit.
I hope this cheery bunch of flowers brightens your day!