Garden Flowers - Sunflower
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SUNFLOWER FAMILY TREE
What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been...

Would you believe that the Sunflower has been on this planet for at least 8,000 years? Archeologists believe that Native Americans cultivated sunflowers as early as 2300 B.C., well before they cultivated corn, beans and squash. The sunflower was used by various Indian tribes in many ways. Seed was ground or pounded into flower, mixed with other vegetables, or cracked and eaten for a snack. Seed was also squeezed into oil for making breads. Sunflowers also used to obtain a purple dye for textiles, body painting and other decorations. Some parts of the plant were used medicinally for snakebite remedies and other ointments. Native Americans used the dried stalks as building materials as well as using the plant and seeds in ceremonies.

In the 1500's, sunflowers traveled with explorers to Europe and were widely used as a cultivated, ornamental flower. Russian Czar Peter the Great discovered the sunflower while on a trip to Holland and began one of the world's first large cultivation programs. The Russian Orthodox Church increased sunflower popularity when it forbade most oil foods from being consumed during Lent. Sunflower was not on the prohibition list and thus gained immediate popularity as a food. In the early 19th century, farmers in Russia were growing over 2 million acres of sunflowers. By 1880, the sunflower had found its way back to the United States and seed companies were advertising the "Mammoth Russian" sunflower seed in their catalogs.

There are over 2,000 varieties of sunflowers identified to date. Unfortunately, many varieties have not been located and may be extinct. One seed producing variety that has survived is the "Mammoth Russian" Sunflower. Offered by seed companies today, it is also knows as "Russian Giant", "Tall Russian", "Russian Greystripe", or simply "Mammoth". An ornamental variety that has survived is the "Italian White" or Helianthus debilis, also offered by many seed companies today.

SUNFLOWER MINUTIAE

  • The scientific word for Sunflower is Hellianthus referring to the ability of the sunflower bloom to follow the sun from sunrise until sunset. Derived from helios meaning sun and anthos meaning flower.
  • Argentina is currently the largest grower of sunflowers.
  • The tallest sunflower grown was 25 feet tall and grown in the Netherlands.
  • The largest sunflower head was grown in Canada and measured 32-1/2 inches across its widest point.
  • The shortest mature sunflower was just over 2 inches tall and grown in Oregon using a bonsai technique.

SUNFLOWERS IN YOUR GARDEN

Sunflowers love a sunny, protected area with well draining, cultivated soil. Sow annual varieties in early spring. Sow two seeds in each spot, removing the weaker seedling if both germinate. They can also be germinated earlier in a greenhouse. Plant perennial varieties in autumn or spring and divide every two or three years to keep plants healthy and vigorous. Cut down flowering stems of perennials when flowering has finished.

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