Helianthus, most commonly known as Sunflowers, are a bright and beautiful addition to any summer garden. The multi-functional plants provide us with healthy snacks, useful oil, and birdseeds. We have compiled 9 amazing facts you may not have known about sunflowers:
1. They originate from North America
Believe it or not, sunflowers do not originate from Europe; they were exported from North America to Europe in the 1500s by Spanish explorers. They have been cultivated in North America as far back as 3000 BCE, when Native Americans used them for food, medicine, dye, and oil.
2. They were brought to Russia by Peter the Great
Tsar Peter the Great was so fascinated by the sunflowers he saw in the Netherlands that he took some back to Russia. They became popular when people discovered that sunflower seed oil was not banned during Lent, unlike the other oils the Russian Orthodox Church banned from consuming. By the 19th century, the country was planting two million acres of sunflowers every year.
3. They need a lot of sun and room
The flowers not only look like the sun; they need a lot of it. They grow best with about six to eight hours a day, but more is even better. They can grow as tall as 16 feet, although many varieties have been developed to thrive at different heights. Flowers planted too close together will compete and not blossom to their full potential.
4. They follow the sun’s movements
Sunflowers display a behaviour called heliotropism. The flower buds and young blossoms will face east in the morning and follow the sun as the earth moves during the day. However, as the flowers get heavier during seed production, the stems will stiffen and the mature flower heads will generally remain facing east.
5. The world’s tallest sunflower is a Guinness World Record breaker
In the summer of 2014, veteran green-thumb Hans-Peter Schiffer toppled the Guinness World Record for third year in a row with his 30ft 1 inch sunflower. The local fire brigade lent a hand to measure the sunflower, which required its own scaffold.
6. They have medicinal properties
In Mexico, the flowers were believed to soothe chest pain. A number of Native American tribes also believed the plant had curing properties. It is believed the Cherokee utilized an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys while the Dakota brought it out to soothe “chest pain and pulmonary troubles.”
7. They have travelled into space
In 2012, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit brought along a packed of sunflower seeds to the International Space Station. Petit regularly blogged about the gardening process in space and how the sunflowers were doing.
8. They are made up of thousands of tiny flowers
Each sunflower’s head is made of smaller flowers. The petals we see around the outside are called ray florets, and they cannot reproduce. But the disc florets in the middle, where the seeds develop, have both male and female sex organs, and each produce a seed. They can self-pollinate or take pollen blown by the wind or transported by insects.
9. They can be used as scrubbing pads
Once the flower heads are empty of seeds, they can be converting into disposable eco-scrubbing pads for tough stains.