Ask elementary school children to draw a flower and chances are it will resemble a sunflower. To further the point, ask them to draw the sun and it might also resemble a sunflower, with the light rays projecting out from the yellow circle like pedals to a flower. The plant is an iconic image for many of us from our very youth. Whether it is its simplicity or bright colors or the subject in a Van Gogh painting (maybe not) it remains a popular plant and in recent years, even more so.
is a true native American, originating in Central America and treasured by indigenous people for food over thousands of years. Early European explorers returned with seeds of the fascinating plant and its popularity grew for both its beauty, oil, and as a food source.
Also grown for production of sought-after cholesterol-free oil, commercially the sunflower is a viable crop world-wide. The plant’s development for ornamental use is surely inspired by new color ranges of bright orange, gold, lemon yellow, bronze, amber, mahogany red, and even white flowers. Bloom textures and overall plant sizes are varied, so we take a closer look at varieties for home garden use.
The diversity in a variety of appearances offers something for everyone.
America Giant, Kong, and Titan are as one might assume are quite tower-like. Considering what seed supplier, these colossal plants usually planted for their novelty, can reach 10 to 14 feet depending on the growing environment.
Most sunflower types finding their way into gardens are in the 3 to 5-foot range. A nice size as a backdrop fit-in with existing plantings and handy for cut-flower purposes. Popular mid-size plants include Sunny Babe, (would assume inspired by a Beach Boys song) and also known and sold as Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison’s classic song, seems to be an oldies theme going on). Moulin Rouge has 3-6” flowers with stunning Burgundy Red pedals.
All that considered, a variety that is yet another notch up is Shock o Lat (yes, that is the patented name). Imagine a sunflower plant reaching 4-6 feet in height with 6” blooms of deep dark chocolate base color, golden tips, and an ethereal gold halo around the central seed head circle. Hard to believe it is an actual flower and not a creation of Disney animation.
Not to be outdone and the size that may have more applications in the home landscape are the smallest sunflowers. One that has been on the market for years and is a proven hit is the Teddy Bear varieties. The soft, puffy cushion-like flowers set atop stalks limited to 2 feet high. Suntastic is a fantastic (sure, the marketing initiatives assumed we use that in our description) even smaller variety, with 1-2 feet heights with 5” blooms. What truly seems to be remarkable are 10” diameter blooms on 2.5-foot stems on the Sunspot variety.
This is only scratching the surface of the sunflower possibilities. Whether it is for oil, food, novelty, or the unmatched contribution of the classic flower to a garden, as old as the sunflower is, there’s a place for it to fit your needs.
-Rob McCartney, Horticulturist
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