Fascinating Facts About Sunflowers

Filling fields in summer with their glorious yellow faces, sunflowers delivered are a joyful sight to behold. They’re cultivated for their beauty and are favourites for weddings and bringing colour and life to homes across the world. But sunflowers are more than just decorations: these useful plants produce seeds to snack on, oil that has all manner of uses and they have even been prized for their medicinal properties. They have even visited space! Here we explore some fascinating facts about the sunflower, otherwise known by its Latin name Helianthus annus.

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They’re a Diverse Species

There are about 70 species of sunflower and all but three are native to North America. Sunflowers are members of the Asteraceae or Compositae family of flowers which includes daisies, asters, marigolds and dandelions. Many of the flowers in this family are highly valued as they can produce a wide variety of products from cooking oils and edible leaves to medicines and herbal teas.

They Really Love the Sun!

The name of these flowers is inspired both by their appearance and their love of the sun. They need six to eight hours a day of sunshine and with the right amount often grow to 16 feet high – although the tallest ever recorded was just over 30 feet. They even follow the sun: the buds and young flowers face east in the morning and move throughout the day to follow the sun on its course across the sky. This behaviour is called heliotropism and was originally noted by the Ancient Greeks. It’s only the buds that do this though: once the flowers mature they solely face east.

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They’re Not One, But Thousands of Tiny Flowers

Each sunflower head is made up of thousands of little flowers. The outer flowers are sterile and used to attract insects with their bright colours so that they will pollinate the plant. The flowers in the middle of the head can reproduce and do so with the help of insects or with pollen blown by the wind.

More Than Just a Pretty Face

With their joyous yellow colour and daisy-shape, sunflowers make perfect plants to brighten the garden and home. But these amazing plants have many other uses – most notably for oil. Sunflower oil is made from the compressed seeds of the flower and is used in cooking and salad dressings.

In the Americas sunflowers have long been used in traditional medicine. Many Native American tribes would make the sunflower head into a drink to treat respiratory problems like bronchitis and lung infections. In China the fibre from the stem have been used to make fabrics and paper.

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They’ve Been to Space Many Times

Sunflowers have been NASA’s flower of choice for experiments since the moon landings. In the 1980s they were taken into space to see how plants know which way to grow from a seed – but scientists still don’t have the answer. More recently, in 2012 US astronaut Don Pettit tried grew sunflowers on the International Space Station and blogged about his space gardening experiences.

Fascinating Facts About Sunflowers was last modified: June 6th, 2016 by Todd

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