Common Sunflower Helianthus annuus) L.

Sunflower
Sunflower

Does any other flower the large open and smiling face of the sunflower? Not just another pretty face, the sunflower is a butterfly host plant and a nectar source for pollinators.

The sunflower is a native domesticated crop. During the last 3,000 years, Indians increased the seed size approximately 1,000 percent. They changed the genetic composition of the plant by repeatedly selecting the largest seeds. The Cherokee used an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys.

A young sunflower (Helianthus spp.) blossom waiting to be pollinated in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.
A young sunflower (Helianthus spp.) blossom waiting to be pollinated in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

How to Grow Sunflowers

When the soil has warmed up to at least 45ºF (7ºC) in the spring, sow hardy sunflower seeds where they are to flower. Seeds can also be sown in pots or seed trays and either planted out in their final positions in late fall or overwintered in a cold frame to be planted out in spring. This technique is useful in gardens with clay soil that is slow to warm up in spring. Sunflowers need full sun. Watering is required until they become established.

A little green fly pokes around a young sunflower (Helianthus spp.) blossom in early autumn in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.
A little green fly pokes around a young sunflower (Helianthus spp.) blossom in early autumn in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Sunflowers Attract Birds, Bees, and Pollinators

Game birds, songbirds, and rodents eat the large, nutritious seeds of sunflowers. The squirrels in my garden nip off the seed heads before they even mature.

Birds eating the seeds include Wilson snipes, doves, grouse, ring-necked pheasants, quail, blackbirds, bobolinks, lazuli buntings, black-capped chickadees, cowbirds, white-winged crossbills, crows, house finches, goldfinches, purple grackles, horned larks, longspurs, meadowlarks, white-breasted nuthatches, pyrrhuloxias, ravens, sparrows, and tufted titmice. Seed-eating birds.

Small mammals who relish the seeds include the least chipmunk, eastern pocket gopher, ground squirrels, lemmings, meadow mice, pocket mice, white-footed mice, prairie dogs, and kangaroo rats. Muskrats eat the stems and foliage. Antelope, deer, and moose browse on the plants.

See also Bee or Fly? 

and Fall Sunflowers Bees, Flies, and Pollination 

 

Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) Brushfoot (Nymphalini) Family. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) Brushfoot (Nymphalini) Family. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Sunflower is a Host Plant

Host plant to: Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) butterflies. The female Silvery Checkerspots lay 100+ eggs beneath host leaf.

A beautiful stand of volunteer sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.
A beautiful stand of volunteer sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Quick Facts

Common name: Common Sunflower

Scientific name: Helianthus annuus L.

Family name: Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)

Native range: The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is a common and widespread roadside plant. It is common in open sites in many different habitats throughout North America, southern Canada, and Mexico at elevations below 1900 m.

Habitat: sunny, open areas – meadows, roadsides

Height: 2-10 ft tall

Light: full Sun

Hardiness zones: warm season annual, all zones

Bloom period: summer

Bloom color: usually yellow, but humans have bred an assortment of colors from burgundy to orange.

 

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Fall Sunflowers, Bees, Flies, and Pollination 

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New England Asters are a Pollinator Magnet

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