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
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.
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.
Common Name(s): pale sunflower, thinleaf sunflower
Helianthus scrophulariifolius Britton
Helianthus tracheliifolius Mill.
3. Helianthus divaricatus L.
Common Name(s): woodland sunflower
Helianthus divaricatus L. var. angustifolius Kuntze
4. Helianthus giganteus L.
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
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.
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.
Common Name(s): Maximilian sunflower
Helianthus dalyi Britton
8. Helianthus mollis Lam.
Common Name(s): downy sunflower, ashy sunflower
Rarity: Michigan threatened.
Helianthus mollis Lam. var. cordatus S. Wats.
9. Helianthus occidentalis Riddell
Common Name(s): western sunflower, fewleaf sunflower
10. Helianthus pauciflorus Nutt.
Common Name(s): stiff sunflower
11. Helianthus petiolaris Nutt.
Common Name(s): petioled sunflower, prairie sunflower
12. Helianthus petiolaris Nutt. ssp. petiolaris
Common Name(s): prairie sunflower
13. Helianthus rigidus (Cass.) Desf.
Common Name(s): stiff sunflower, prairie sunflower
Helianthus laetiflorus Pers. var. rigidus (Cass.) Fern.
Helianthus pauciflorus Nutt. ssp. pauciflorus
14. Helianthus strumosus L.
Common Name(s): paleleaf woodland sunflower, pale-leaved sunflower
Helianthus montanus E.E. Wats.
Helianthus saxicola Small
15. Helianthus tuberosus L.
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