By: Sherry Presson
Grayson County Master Gardener
The sunflower, Helianthus annus, was a common crop among American Indian tribes in North America. In Greek, Helios means sun and Anthos means flower. This annual plant was cultivated by tribes in present day Arizona and New Mexico around the year 1000 to 3000 BC. The sunflower has an important role in our lives for pure enjoyment, agriculture, food production for consumption and wildlife management.
There are multiple sunflower species native to Texas. The Helianthus annus, also know as the common sunflower, is a big favorite. They are native, heat tolerant, pest resistant, fast growing and seed producing plants.
I planted tall single stem Mammoth Grey Stripe Non-GMO, Heirloom seeds. I had placed my seeds in an area where they received all day sun and they thrived! Sunflowers require 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. These beauties have long tap roots that go several feet into the ground and are very drought tolerant. Plant them March to May, space 12-18 inches apart and their dazzling blooms should occur in about 110 days. Their vibrant, yellow flowers are often 10-12 inches in diameter and can grow 8-12 feet tall with a long blooming cycle of several weeks of enjoyment. As you can see in the pictures I provided, I am about 5 ft tall, and my Mammoths are approx. 10 feet tall. Here is a fun fact: The tallest sunflower recorded, per the Guinness World Record 2021, was 30 feet and 1 inch. The largest sunflower head was 32 inches.
These plants were very easy to grow. It was amazing watching them grow so fast and tall. I felt like I was being observed when their faces rotated during the day. They began the day with their vibrant, joyful faces to the East and swung West gradually during the day then turned back to the East during the night! These movements occur only during the growing cycle. According to plant biologists, the sunflowers use their internal clocks, acting on growth hormones to follow the sun. After the sunflower matures, it does not follow the sun any longer and simply faces East. My bundles of joy soared from 5 to 10 feet tall! Eventually their heads cupped down to protect the grown seeds from weather and the birds. Each sunflower head is composed of a mass of tiny florets that will each produce a seed if pollinated which can result in several hundred seeds. I would see multiple pollinators enjoying these tiny flowers.
We had a very large harvest of seeds and were able to plant and reproduce more sunflowers the next year as well as enjoying them for snacks. After I harvested the heads of seeds, I left several in places for the enjoyment of the bird population. For me, my family and my granddaughter, these plants were intriguing, dazzling, and made me smile every day. Put some sunshine into your life!