About Sunflowers

While many sunflower species may begin blooming in July, they are not as noticeable then as later on when they have grown up and over the surrounding vegetation.  There are eleven species of sunflower recorded from Kansas.   Most of them are perennials.  Only the common sunflower and H. petiolaris, the Prairie Sunflower, are annuals.

The Common Sunflower has a long history of association with people.   Nearly 3,000 years ago it was domesticated for food production by the Native Americans.  The seeds of the wild type of sunflower are only about 5 mm. long.   It was only through careful selection for the largest size seeds over hundreds of years that the cultivated sunflower was produced. Lewis and Clark made mention in their journals of its usage by the plains Indians.  It was brought back to the Old World by the early European explorers and widely cultivated there also.  Today it is a common alternative crop in the Great Plains and elsewhere for food and oil production.    Next time you munch down on some sunflower seeds, thank the many generations of Native Americans whose careful husbandry gave us this valuable food item.

The wild cousins of those grown on the farm are still common, however, in fields, roadsides and disturbed ground throughout the Great Plains.

The Common Sunflower is a typical member of the Asteraceae, one of the largest and most successful families of plants.  Within the structure we think of as the "flower", it actually has two different types of flowers - ray and disk flowers.

Members of the sunflower family are popular with butterflies because the wide flower head makes a good "landing platform" and the numerous individual flowers make for a high probability of finding nectar.  Monarch butterflies are commonly seen nectaring on sunflowers during their fall migration.

Courtesy of  the Great Plains Nature Center, Wichita, KS

Greek mythology
In Greek mythology, a girl named Clytie fell in love with the sun god Apollo, and would do nothing but watch his chariot move across the sky. After nine days, she was transformed into a sunflower. However, the word "sunflower" and its cognates existed long before Helianthus annuus was brought to Europe, and it is thought that the myth (which is mentioned in Ovid's poem Metamorphoses) actually refers to heliotrope or marigold.
Courtesy of  the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Genus List: Helianthus
1.  Helianthus annuus L. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): garden sunflower, common sunflower
  Helianthus annuus L. ssp. jaegeri (Heiser) Heiser 
  Helianthus annuus L. ssp. lenticularis (Dougl. ex Lindl.) Cockerell 
  Helianthus annuus L. ssp. texanus Heiser 
  Helianthus annuus L. var. lenticularis (Dougl. ex Lindl.) Steyermark 
  Helianthus annuus L. var. macrocarpus (DC.) Cockerell 
  Helianthus annuus L. var. texanus (Heiser) Shinners 
  Helianthus aridus Rydb. 
  Helianthus lenticularis Dougl. ex Lindl. 

2.  Helianthus decapetalus L. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): pale sunflower, thinleaf sunflower
  Helianthus scrophulariifolius Britton 
  Helianthus tracheliifolius Mill. 

3.  Helianthus divaricatus L. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): woodland sunflower
  Helianthus divaricatus L. var. angustifolius Kuntze 

4.  Helianthus giganteus L. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): giant sunflower, tall sunflower
Rarity: Illinios endangered. 
  Helianthus alienus E.E. Wats. 
  Helianthus borealis E.E. Wats. 
  Helianthus giganteus L. ssp. alienus (E.E. Wats.) R.W. Long 
  Helianthus giganteus L. var. subtuberosus Britton 
  Helianthus nuttallii Torr. & A. Gray var. subtuberosus (Britton) Boivin 
  Helianthus subtuberosus (Britton) Britton 
  Helianthus validus E.E. Wats. 

5.  Helianthus grosseserratus Martens 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): sawtooth sunflower
  Helianthus grosseserratus Martens ssp. maximus R.W. Long 
  Helianthus grosseserratus Martens var. hypoleucus A. Gray 
  Helianthus instabilis E.E. Wats. 

6.  Helianthus hirsutus Raf. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): hairy sunflower, hispid sunflower
Rarity: Michigan special concern. 
  Helianthus hirsutus Raf. var. stenophyllus Torr. & A. Gray 
  Helianthus hirsutus Raf. var. trachyphyllus Torr. & A. Gray 
  Helianthus stenophyllus (Torr. & A. Gray) E.E. Wats. 

7.  Helianthus maximiliani Schrad. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): Maximilian sunflower
  Helianthus dalyi Britton 

8.  Helianthus mollis Lam. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): downy sunflower, ashy sunflower
Rarity: Michigan threatened. 
  Helianthus mollis Lam. var. cordatus S. Wats. 

9.  Helianthus occidentalis Riddell 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): western sunflower, fewleaf sunflower

10.  Helianthus pauciflorus Nutt. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): stiff sunflower

11.  Helianthus petiolaris Nutt. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): petioled sunflower, prairie sunflower

12.  Helianthus petiolaris Nutt. ssp. petiolaris 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): prairie sunflower

13.  Helianthus rigidus (Cass.) Desf. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): stiff sunflower, prairie sunflower
  Helianthus laetiflorus Pers. var. rigidus (Cass.) Fern. 
  Helianthus pauciflorus Nutt. ssp. pauciflorus 

14.  Helianthus strumosus L. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): paleleaf woodland sunflower, pale-leaved sunflower
  Helianthus montanus E.E. Wats. 
  Helianthus saxicola Small 

15.  Helianthus tuberosus L. 
Family: Asteraceae
Common Name(s): Jerusalem artichoke
  Helianthus tomentosus Michx. 
  Helianthus tuberosus L. var. subcanescens A. Gray 

Courtesy of:    vPlants.org   A Virtual Herbarium of the Chicago Region
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Helianthus annuus,  (French:Tournesol) Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)

"I began painting sunflowers when I was commissioned by a man to create a unique gift for his wife.  He asked me to paint a bouquet of his wife's favorite flower, the sunflower.   I was inspired by this endearing request and we were both very pleased with the result.  His wife loved the platter and, especially, the thought that went into it by her husband.  Since then I been impassioned with the many varieties of sunflowers including H. bismarkianus (Common Sunflower), H. giganteus (Russian Giant), H. argophyllus (Silverleaf Sunflower), H. anomalus, H. californicus (California sunflower), H. paradoxus (Pecos sunflower) and H. debilis (Cucumberleaf Sunflower). When I paint sunflowers I typically use special glazes for the seeds which, when fired, retains it's dimensional characteristics.  You can actually feel the texture of the seeds when you touch them.   I often incorporate blue and/or deep purple dutch irises with my sunflowers because I am attracted to the contrast of textures and colors between the two flowers.  I hope you enjoy these pieces as much as I enjoy making them."   
Frédérique Lavios, artist
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Platters are food safe.  they can be used as serving platters, mounted on the wall with built-in hardware (included on the back of the piece) and/or used on a stand as a table.  Safe for use indoors or outdoors.
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