Helianthus, better known as sunflowers. Nothing makes me smile more quickly and longer than sunflowers. They have a joy about them that elicits from me wonder and an increasing certainty that nature gets it so magically right. They really don’t come into their own until the end of summer when many of the brighter flowers are beginning to fade, as if to say ……” it ain’t over till it’s over.” Just before the summer light begins to change, the land is at its brightest in fields of yellow sunflowers.
In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. ~ Christopher Morley
Contemporary sunflowers trace their ancestry to plants found at archeological sites dating from 3,000 BC. While they grew abundantly on the Great Plains, sunflowers were first purposely cultivated by Native Americans in the Southwest or Mississippi River valley area as a source of medicine, fiber, seeds, and oil.
When the European settlers arrived, they immediately recognized the value of sunflowers and sent seeds back to Europe. There they found a place in English cottage gardens and even Van Gogh’s paintings. However, it was in Russia that the sunflower became a major agricultural crop. They provided a source of oil that could be eaten without breaking church dietary laws. Early in the 20th Century, Russian growers spearheaded the breeding and selection for disease resistance and high oil content. In the 1960s, the U.S. began sustained commercial production of oil seed cultivars to produce vegetable oil.
Long beloved as part of the rural landscape, sunflowers have been embraced by gardeners as an ornamental plant relatively recently. Responding to this interest, breeders in Germany, Japan and the U.S. have developed types particularly suitable for home gardens. source
Sunflowers grow best in locations with full sun. They are remarkably tough and will grow in any kind of soil as long as it is not waterlogged. They do fine in soils that are slightly acidic to somewhat alkaline (pH 6.0 to 7.5). Once sunflowers get started, they can tolerate drought as befits plants whose ancestors grew happily in dry prairie regions. They are so easy to grow that they often plant themselves, springing up unbidden beneath a bird feeder.
Sunflower seed, leaves and stems emit substances that inhibit the growth of certain other plants. They should be separated from potatoes and pole beans. Where sunflower seeds are regularly used as bird feed, toxins from the accumulated seed hulls eventually kill the grass below. Harmless to animals or people, the toxins eventually biodegrade in the soil.
For those of you that like the science that explains a bit of the mystery and beauty in nature, here is some more information:
The Fibonacci numbers are Nature’s numbering system. They appear everywhere in Nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pinecone, or the scales of a pineapple. The Fibonacci numbers are therefore applicable to the growth of every living thing, including a single cell, a grain of wheat, a hive of bees, and even all of mankind.
Plants do not know about this sequence – they just grow in the most efficient ways. Many plants show the Fibonacci numbers in the arrangement of the leaves around the stem. Some pine cones and fir cones also show the numbers, as do daisies and sunflowers. Sunflowers can contain the number 89, or even 144. Many other plants, such as succulents, also show the numbers. Some coniferous trees show these numbers in the bumps on their trunks. And palm trees show the numbers in the rings on their trunks.
Why do these arrangements occur? In the case of leaf arrangement, or phyllotaxis, some of the cases may be related to maximizing the space for each leaf, or the average amount of light falling on each one. Even a tiny advantage would come to dominate, over many generations. In the case of close-packed leaves in cabbages and succulents the correct arrangement may be crucial for availability of space.
In the seeming randomness of the natural world, we can find many instances of mathematical order involving the Fibonacci numbers themselves and the closely related “Golden” elements.
I am also fascinated by fractals in nature, but that is for another time. source
As an added bonus, did you know that Sunflowers can also be used as a silage crop? They can be used as a double crop after early harvested small grains or vegetables, an emergency crop, or in areas with a season too short to produce mature corn for silage.
Forage yields of sunflower are generally less than corn when a full growing season is available.
Nutritional quality of sunflower silage is often higher than corn but lower than alfalfa hay. Crude protein level of sunflower silage is similar to grass hay and higher than corn silage. source
I have enjoyed many sunflowers in my gardens over the years. At one time I had a very large area dedicated to them where I mixed Russian Giants with smaller varieties amidst red poppies…..It was for the children, and all that visited were drawn to that garden. I will see if I can find a photo since it was before digital cameras, but I so remember having to stand on a ladder to reach the flower heads on the other side of the 6 foot fence. It was quite a site. I could see them from many areas on the property, and they never failed to remind me to smile!
Thank you for stopping by. I will be posting later this week on my own gardens as well as about an extraordinary home. Laters, charisse
” I want to be like a sunflower; so that even on the darkest days I will stand tall & find the sunlight”. MLK