Does any other flower have 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 sunflowers are blooming and smiling in my gardens. The small sunflowers I had in my backyard garden were nipped off early in the season by the squirrels. But a couple flowers have bounced back. My community garden plot is where the sunflowers are free to reach for the sky and achieve their full glory.
The sunflower is a native domesticated crop. During the last 3,000 years, indigenous peoples 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.
Sunflowers have Bisexual Flowers
The yellow petals around the edges of the sunflower are sterile ray flowers without reproductive organs. The numerous brown tubular flowers in the center contain both female and male reproductive parts.
Insects and hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar in the tiny brown flowers and pollinate the flowers while sipping the nectar.
Sunflowers Attract Birds, Bees, and Pollinators
Game birds, songbirds, and rodents eat the large, nutritious seeds of sunflowers.
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.
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.
The squirrels in my backyard garden nip off the seed heads before they even mature. Opossum and raccoons bend the stalks of the tall sunflowers in my community garden plot to the ground, where they can eat the seeds in comfort.
Insects such as bees and flies visit sunflowers for the nectar in the many flowers in the sunflower’s center.
See also Bee or Fly?
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.
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.
Quick Sunflower 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.