Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower, is an annual species of sunflower grown as a crop for its edible oil and edible fruits (sunflower seeds). This species of sunflower is also used as bird food, as livestock forage (as a meal or a silage plant), and in some industrial applications. The plant was first domesticated in the Americas. Wild Helianthus annuus is a widely branched annual plant with many flower heads. The domestic sunflower, however, possesses a single large inflorescence (flower head) atop an unbranched stem. The name sunflower may derive from the flower's head's shape, which resembles the sun, or from the false impression that the blooming plant appears to slowly turn its flower towards the sun as the latter moves across the sky on a daily basis.
The plant has an erect rough-hairy stem, reaching typical heights of 3 metres (9.8 ft). The tallest sunflower on record achieved 8.23 metres (27.0 ft). Sunflower leaves are broad, coarsely toothed, rough and mostly alternate. What is often called the "flower" of the sunflower is actually a "flower head" or pseudanthium of numerous small individual five-petaled flowers ("florets"). The outer flowers, which resemble petals, are called ray flowers. Each "petal" consists of a ligule composed of fused petals of an asymmetrical ray flower. They are sexually sterile and may be yellow, red, orange, or other colors. The flowers in the center of the head are called disk flowers. These mature into fruits (sunflower "seeds"). The disk flowers are arranged spirally. Generally, each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, 137.5°, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds mathematically possible within the flower head.
Most cultivars of sunflower are variants of Helianthus annuus, but four other species (all perennials) are also domesticated. This includes H. tuberosus, the Jerusalem Artichoke, which produces edible tubers.
Mathematical model of floret arrangement
where θ is the angle, r is the radius or distance from the center, and n is the index number of the floret and c is a constant scaling factor. It is a form of Fermat's spiral. The angle 137.5° is related to the golden ratio (55/144 of a circular angle, where 55 and 144 are Fibonacci numbers) and gives a close packing of florets. This model has been used to produce computer graphics representations of sunflowers.
The sunflower, Helianthus annuus, genome is diploid with a base chromosome number of 17 and an estimated genome size of 2871–3189 Mbp. Some sources claim its true size is around 3.5 billion base pairs (slightly larger than the human genome).
Cultivation and uses
To grow best, sunflowers need full sun. They grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil with heavy mulch. In commercial planting, seeds are planted 45 cm (1.5 ft.) apart and 2.5 cm (1 in) deep. Sunflower "whole seed" (fruit) are sold as a snack food, raw or after roasting in ovens, with or without salt and/or seasonings added. Sunflowers can be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter. In Germany, it is mixed with rye flour to make Sonnenblumenkernbrot (literally: sunflower whole seed bread), which is quite popular in German-speaking Europe. It is also sold as food for birds and can be used directly in cooking and salads. American Indians had multiple uses for sunflowers in the past, such as in bread, medical ointments, dyes and body paints.
Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel, as it is cheaper than olive oil. A range of sunflower varieties exist with differing fatty acid compositions; some 'high oleic' types contain a higher level of monounsaturated fats in their oil than even olive oil.
The cake remaining after the seeds have been processed for oil is used as a livestock feed. Some recently developed cultivars have drooping heads. These cultivars are less attractive to gardeners growing the flowers as ornamental plants, but appeal to farmers, because they reduce bird damage and losses from some plant diseases. Sunflowers also produce latex, and are the subject of experiments to improve their suitability as an alternative crop for producing nonallergenic rubber.
Traditionally, several Native American groups planted sunflowers on the north edges of their gardens as a "fourth sister" to the better known three sisters combination of corn, beans, and squash. Annual species are often planted for their allelopathic properties.
However, for commercial farmers growing commodity crops, the sunflower, like any other unwanted plant, is often considered a weed. Especially in the Midwestern US, wild (perennial) species are often found in corn and soybean fields and can have a negative impact on yields.
Sunflowers can be used in phytoremediation to extract toxic ingredients from soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium, and used in rhizofiltration to neutralize radionuclides and other toxic ingredients and harmful bacteria from water. They were used to remove caesium-137 and strontium-90 from a nearby pond after the Chernobyl disaster, and a similar campaign was mounted in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
A common misconception is that flowering sunflower heads track the Sun across the sky. Although immature flower buds exhibit this behaviour, the mature flowering heads point in a fixed (and typically easterly) direction throughout the day. This old misconception was disputed in 1597 by the English botanist John Gerard, who grew sunflowers in his famous herbal garden: "[some] have reported it to turn with the Sun, the which I could never observe, although I have endeavored to find out the truth of it." The uniform alignment of sunflower heads in a field might give some people the false impression that the flowers are tracking the sun.
This alignment results from heliotropism in an earlier development stage, the bud stage, before the appearance of flower heads (anthesis). The buds are heliotropic until the end of the bud stage, and finally face East. Their heliotropic motion is a circadian rhythm, synchronized by the sun, which continues if the sun disappears on cloudy days. If a sunflower plant in the bud stage is rotated 180°, the bud will be turning away from the sun for a few days, as resynchronization by the sun takes time. The heliotropic motion of the bud is performed by the pulvinus, a flexible segment just below the bud, due to reversible changes in turgor pressure, which occurs without growth.
Although it was commonly accepted that the sunflower was first domesticated in what is now the southeastern US, roughly 5000 years ago, there is evidence that it was first domesticated in Mexico around 2600 BC. These crops were found in Tabasco, Mexico at the San Andres dig site. The earliest known examples in the United States of a fully domesticated sunflower have been found in Tennessee, and date to around 2300 BC. Many indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America. In 1510 early Spanish explorers encountered the sunflower in the Americas and carried its seeds back to Europe. Of the four plants known to have been domesticated in what is now the eastern continental United States  and to have become important agricultural commodities, the sunflower is currently the most economically important.
During the 18th century, the use of sunflower oil became very popular in Russia, particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils that was allowed during Lent, according to some fasting traditions.
Among the Zuni people, the fresh or dried root is chewed by the medicine man before sucking venom from a snakebite and applying a poultice to the wound. This compound poultice of the root is applied with much ceremony to rattlesnake bites. Blossoms are also used ceremonially for anthropic worship.
- The sunflower is the state flower of the US state of Kansas, and one of the city flowers of Kitakyūshū, Japan.
- The sunflower is often used as a symbol of green ideology. The sunflower is also the symbol of the Vegan Society.
- During the late 19th century, the flower was used as the symbol of the Aesthetic Movement.
- Subject of Van Gogh's series of paintings, Sunflowers
- The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.
- The sunflower was chosen as the symbol of the Spiritualist Church for many reasons, but mostly because it turns toward the sun as "Spiritualism turns toward the light of truth". As stated earlier in the article, this is in fact, not true. Modern Spiritualists often have art or jewelry with sunflower designs.
- Sunflowers were also worshipped by the Incas because they viewed it as a symbol for the Sun.
- The sunflower is the symbol behind the Sunflower Movement, a 2014 mass protest in Taiwan.
- American Giant
- Autumn Beauty
- Aztec Sun
- Black Oil
- Chianti Hybrid
- Claret agm
- Dwarf Sunspot
- Evening Sun
- Giant Primrose
- Gullick's Variety agm
- Indian Blanket Hybrid
- Irish Eyes
- Italian White
- Kong Hybrid
- Large Grey Stripe
- Lemon Queen agm
- Loddon Gold agm
- Mammoth Russian
- Miss Mellish agm
- Mongolian Giant
- Orange Sun
- Pastiche agm
- Peach Passion
- Prado Red
- Red Sun
- Ring of Fire
- Solar Eclipse
- Strawberry Blonde
- Sunny Hybrid
- Teddy Bear
- Thousand Suns
- Valentine agm
- Velvet Queen
- Yellow Disk
There are many species in the sunflower genus Helianthus, and many species in other genera that may be called sunflowers.
- The Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) is one of 38 species of perennial sunflower native to North America. The Land Institute and other breeding programs are currently exploring the potential for these as a perennial seed crop.
- The sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke or Helianthus tuberosus) is related to the sunflower, another example of perennial sunflower.
- The Mexican sunflower is Tithonia rotundifolia. It is only very distantly related to North American sunflowers.
- False sunflower refers to plants of the genus Heliopsis.
- "Tallest Sunflower". Guiness World Records. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
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- "Many people are under the misconception that the flower heads of the cultivated sunflower (Helianthus annuus) track the sun... Immature flower buds of the sunflower do exhibit solar tracking and on sunny days the buds will track the sun across the sky from east to west... However, as the flower bud matures and blossoms, the stem stiffens and the flower becomes fixed facing the eastward direction." Hangarter, Roger P. "Solar tracking: sunflower plants". Plants-In-Motion website. Indiana University. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
- "Sunflowers in the blooming stage are not heliotropic anymore. The stem has frozen, typically in an eastward orientation.".
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- "When the plant is in the bud stage, it tends to track the movement of the sun across the horizon. Once the flower opens into the radiance of yellow petals, it faces east." National Sunflower Association
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- Stevenson, p.93
- Awtry-Smith, Marilyn J. The Symbol of Spiritualism: The Sunflower. Reprinted from the New Educational Course on Modern Spiritualism. Appendix IV in Talking to the Other Side: A History of Modern Spiritualism and Mediumship, ed. by Todd Jay Leonard. ISBN 0-595-36353-9.
- "RHS Plant Selector Helianthus annuus 'Claret' / RHS Gardening". Apps.rhs.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
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- "RHS Plant Selector Helianthus 'Loddon Gold' AGM / RHS Gardening". Apps.rhs.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
- "RHS Plant Selector Helianthus 'Miss Mellish' AGM / RHS Gardening". Apps.rhs.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
- "RHS Plant Selector Helianthus annuus 'Pastiche' / RHS Gardening". Apps.rhs.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
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- National Sunflower Association
- Sunflowerseed—USDA Economic Research Service. Summary of sunflower production, trade, and consumption and links to relevant USDA reports.
- Sunflower cultivation—New Crop Resource Online Program, Purdue University
- Helianthus annuus —Home garden cultural information on growing sunflowers
- Sunflower seed vigor—Relationship between seed size and NaCl on germination, seed vigor and early seedling growth of sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.)