Sunflowers: An American original

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The story of the sunflower begins nearly 5,000 years ago right here in the part of the world we today call the United States. Evidence shows that American Indians were using sunflowers as food and building materials by about 3,000 BC.

Though the sunflower originated in North America, today the sunflower is grown in countries throughout the world for food and pleasure. Many birds and animals like squirrels, cardinals, mice, and turkeys eat sunflower seeds. The first commercial use of sunflowers was as chicken feed.

Most domesticated sunflowers have a single stem with one large head that can contain 2,500 or more seeds. Wild sunflowers have multiple stems and small heads with fewer and smaller seeds.

Sunflowers are easy to grow, taking 90 to 100 days from planting to maturity. They are beautiful in a garden, but may need support from wind as they grow tall.

Close inspection reveals that each seed in a sunflower's head has a single flower that needs pollinating. Looking at my photo you will notice that the bumblebee is tending the flowering part of the seed head. The petals have already fallen from the outer few rows and the inner portion has not bloomed yet. The honeybee flying away has a large orange cache of pollen attached to his hind legs.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell.

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