The Flower That Follows The Sun

The sunflower, a North American native, has played a unique role in Florida's horticultural history.
Get lost in the mesmerizing spirals of a sunflower.

Two years ago we grew a batch of sunflowers in a meadow area out back. I’d bought the seeds from a seed rack in a store: I was lured to purchase them because the package was labeled “Helianthus Annuus Heritage Variety.” The next year I bought three different varieties of sunflower seeds—two annuals and one perennial. But before I tell you about our sunflower experiences, here’s some general information.

The sunflower genus, Helianthus, is composed of 51 species (14 annual and 37 perennial), all native to North America. The genus name is derived from Greek—”helio” for sun and “antho” for flower.

Sunflowers belong to the second largest family of flowering plants, Asteraceae, also known as daisies or composites. Sunflowers are typical of the composites: they have the appearance of one big flower, but each flower head (inflorescence) is composed of many florets.

A sunflower seed will develop from each disc floret; the sterile, yellow-petal-like ray florets radiate from the edge of the head. The big, single-headed varieties will align themselves during the day to follow the sun. There are some members of this family such as dandelions that have all ray florets (obviously not sterile) and there are others with all disc flowers, but you generally don’t notice them because they’re not as showy as their cousins.

Read the entire article in the March 2008 issue