5 Facts About Sunflowers That Will Make You Want to Grow Them

They're one of the most instantly recognizable blooms out there, but there are still plenty of interesting things to learn about this sunny flower.

When you think of sunflowers, you may picture fields bursting with tall blooms that seem as yellow as the sun itself, but sunflowers can actually be purple, orange, red, or even a mix of these hues. Not all of them are tall, either—there are dwarf varieties that grow only about a foot tall and giant varieties that can reach more than 10 feet tall. Think you know everything there is to know about sunflowers? Think again! Here are five more fascinating facts about these colorful buds.

yellow sunflower bloom
Bill Stites

1. Sunflowers Are Rooted in American Soil

The cheery blooms we call sunflowers are produced by an annual plant (Helianthus annuus) that originated in North America. As far back as 3000 BC, Native Americans grew sunflowers for medicine, oil, and food. Eventually, they began breeding the plant to produce a single, large flower head instead of several smaller ones. In the 1500s, Spanish explorers brought sunflowers to Europe, where they soon became popular for their beauty and usefulness. By the 19th century, Russia alone was planting two million acres of sunflowers every year. If you're feeling inspired to plant your own sunflowers, we have good news: they're easy to grow from seeds. Because they're annuals, they will only last one season, but there are also perennial species in the sunflower family you can try.

2. Sunflower Seeds Are Good for You

Sunflower seeds are a favorite snack at baseball games, and many schools also recommend them as an allergy-friendly alternative to nuts. The shelled seeds can also make a tasty addition to bread and other baked goods and can even be sprinkled over salads. However, they're not just tasty—they're highly nutritious too. Sunflower seeds are a rich source of protein, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamin E. The next time you're looking for a healthy snack, grab a handful of sunflower seeds and get cracking.

3. Sunlight is a Must For Sunflowers

The name of this bloom is no coincidence: Sunflowers truly need sunlight to thrive. Sunflowers should receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, but even more time soaking up the rays is ideal. The flower buds also display a unique behavior called heliotropism, which means they gradually follow the sun's position in the sky as it moves from east to west throughout the day. Once the buds open into flowers, their stems stiffen and remain in place, with the flowers facing east all day long.

4. Thousands of Small Flowers Make Up One Sunflower

Sunflowers aren't just one flower like they appear to be; they actually contain 1,000 to 2,000 smaller flowers. Each petal on the head of a sunflower is what botanists call a ray floret. The inner "eye" is made up of disk florets, which are arranged in mesmerizing patterns of interconnecting spirals. Only the disk florets develop into seeds—they can either pollinate themselves or cross-pollinate with other sunflowers with help from wind or pollinators like bees and butterflies.

5. Sunflowers Are Icons in Art, Music, and Pop Culture

The Sunflowers series by the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh is one of his most well-known works—and one of the most well-known artistic depictions of sunflowers to date. The vivid oil paintings are a bright spot among some of Van Gogh's darker works and have inspired many other artists around the world. More recently, sunflowers were named one of the top three flowers in Minecraft and you might have found yourself humming along to Post Malone's "Sunflower", which was released in October 2018 and remained in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 33 weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is the best time to plant sunflowers?

    The exact time to plant your sunflowers will depend on the USDA growing zone where you reside. As a general rule of thumb, you should plant your sunflower seeds in late spring after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 50 degrees F.

  • When are sunflowers ready to harvest?

    If you're harvesting your sunflowers for a vase or bouquet, you can cut them as soon as the petals begin unfurling from the bud. Cut your sunflowers in the morning or evening, avoiding the heat of mid-day, which can cause the flowers to wilt and die faster. If you're looking to harvest your sunflowers for their edible qualities, you'll want to wait until the foliage turns yellow and the petals begin to dry or die back. The seeds themselves in the center should look plump and be all black or black with white stripes, depending on the flower variety.

  • Can I eat the sunflowers from my garden?

    Yes! Sunflowers are one of the most edible flower varieties out there—in fact, the entirety of the flower is able to be consumed. The leaves can be used for tea or sautéed as a green, while the stalks, seeds, and petals can also be used any number of ways.

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