Common name: Common Sunflower
Scientific name: Helianthus annuus L.
Family name: Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)
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.
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.
Host plant to: Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) butterflies. Female Silvery Checkerspots lay 100+ eggs beneath host leaf.
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 needed: full sun
Hardiness zones: warm season annual, all zones
Bloom period: summer
Bloom color: usually yellow, but humans have breed an assortment of colors form burgundy to orange.
Growing Tips: 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 particularly useful in gardens with clay soil that is slow to warm up in spring. Sunflowers need full sun. Irrigation is required until they become established.
Description: The sunflower is a native domesticated crop. During the last 3,000 years, Indians increased the seed size approximately 1,000 percent. They gradually changed the genetic composition of the plant by repeatedly selecting the largest seeds (Yarnell 1978). The Cherokee used an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys.
Image: Donna L. Long. Information source: USDA Plant Database http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=HEAN3