The sunflower is a tall, coarse annual herb that resembles a colossal daisy. Commercially it is one of the most important herbs in the world today. The plant is grown as an ornamental or for its seeds, which are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals.
The sunflower is native to the Americas. The Indians used its seeds as a source of meal, and the sun-worshipping Incas of Peru attached a religious significance to it and used the plant as an accessory in their religious rites.
The Spanish conquistadores and other visitors to the New World carried the seeds of the “floure of the Sunne” back to their home-lands where the exceptional nutritional worth of the plant was at first ignored.
From the point of view of the gardener, growing sunflowers is an enjoyable occupation. When the plants are young, their heads will turn to face the sun each morning. There are many varieties, including some that do not produce seed. These are used chiefly as ornamentals. Some flowers resemble giant black-eyed Susans, while others are huge, beautiful pompons resembling chrysanthemums.
The head of the giant sunflower is packed protein-rich seeds suitable for both livestock human consumption.
Sunflower Planting and Culture
Sunflowers very well with mild, organic fertilizers, and have few insect pests, so seldom need LI sprayed. For giant-sized heads, space them at least three or four feet apart, but for option of seed, space them more closely.
Grown on a large-scale, sunflowers can be valuable cash crop. They will grow on any land that will produce a fiat corn. A light loam is preferable to a wet soil. The field should be prepared by and smooth harrowing.
The soil should be tested for ground limestone applied if necessary. The pH should be between 6 and 8. There are plenty of nutrients and manure applied at the rate of ten tons per acre, three pounds of seed per acre, using corn planter. Space the seeds at intervals in rows 36 to 42 inches apart. These should be cultivated twice.
As the plant matures, the head will grow the stalks may need some kind of a gentle looping of two or three others which will help the plants withstand winds. In a small garden, sunflowers planted in the back or along the side of the property.
Sunflowers can be harvested if the backs of the seed heads are dry. At this time, the inner rows are iced drying. To harvest, cut off about a foot of the stalk attached that are tied together, and the heads hung barn or loft to dry. When thoroughly the seeds by rubbing the heads. If stored in airtight containers, the vitamins will remain for a long time.
Sunflower is a remarkably versatile plant. Each part of the plant has its use: the entire plant can be used for livestock and poultry, the flowers, yellow dye; the pith of the stalks can make paper or be used as a mounting medium. Since it has a specific flower than cork, pith also can be used as life preservers and belts.
Sunflowers is used primarily as a protein-rich livestock, sunflower seed and oil are also eaten by people. The seeds can be used like nuts or ground into a meal and used in baking or as a supplement to a variety of dishes. Sunflower seeds are increasingly sold as a snack which is particularly popular in Russia. Industrially the oil is used in the manufacture of soaps, candles, burning oils, Russian varnishes, and Dutch enamel paint.
The most interesting sunflowers are those that produce seed. While these come in dwarf, semidwarf and tall varieties, the best kinds for the average gardener or homesteader are the common garden sun-flower (H. annuus) and the giant sunflower (H. giganteus), also called the Indian potato. The common garden sunflower sometimes reaches heights of ten to 12 feet, with blossoms one foot or more in diameter. The plants are widely cultivated in the United States, the Soviet Union, India, South America, Canada, and Egypt. It is the state flower of Kansas.
The giant sunflower is a strong-growing perennial that climbs to 12 feet or more and bears a huge flower packed with big seeds suited for harvesting and eating. Most popular and widely grown of the giant varieties is the Mammoth Russian, which matures in about 80 days. Besides being the largest and tallest of all sunflowers, it bears big, striped seeds that are thin-shelled, meaty, and rich in both flavor and food value. The plants’ towering, husky stalks make excellent screens or field back-grounds. When grown close together, their broad leaves block the sun from weeds.
Sunflowers suitable for growing in the flower garden are the small-seed types such as thin-leaved sunflower (H. decapetalus) and ashy sunflower (H. mollis). These grow from three to five feet high and branch freely from the leaf axils, producing many small flower heads rather than a single large one. The seed is about one-third the size of a corn kernel.
Petals can be shades of yellow, mahogany and purple, and some flowers have a broad band of a contrasting color around the center. All make very good cut flowers for large arrangements. These sunflowers are especially attractive to the smaller seed-eating birds such as goldfinches and chickadees, which will harvest the seeds themselves. Hummingbirds will visit them for nectar and small insects. Color Fashion, Autumn Beauty and Italian White are single-flowered mixtures. Teddy Bear grows to three feet, produces fully double yellow flowers, and is one of the best for cutting.