Edible flower has power to tower

One flower that is not usually overlooked is the brightly colored sunflower. This cheerful giant is a beauty, partially edible and talented, as well. Did you know that the sunflower gracefully turns its head to follow the sun each day?

The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant that is native to the Americas. According to Wikipedia, the sunflower got its name from its huge, fiery blooms, whose shape and image is often used to depict the sun. The sunflower has a tough, hairy stem with rough leaves and circular heads of flowers. The heads are made of 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined together at the base. What is usually called the “flower” on a sunflower is actually a “flower head” of many florets crowded together.

You can find sunflowers from 5 to 12 feet tall. There is a report of a famous sunflower in 1567 in Padua that was said to have grown to 40 feet in height! The giant sunflowers are just a huge variety of sunflower. Growing the super-tall version is a challenge because the stem sometimes needs support. Staking is one solution. Use florist ties, string or Velcro to fasten the sunflower stem around the stake.

These colorful beauties are native to Central America and were domesticated in what we now know as Mexico by around 2600 BC. Ancient Aztecs and Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity.

The best growing conditions for a healthy eye catching crop of sunflowers is full sun and fertile, moist, well-drained soil with heavy mulch. They are tolerant as short spells of wet or dry but too much water may result in the soil getting too wet and unstable to support the weight of the sunflower head. They are usually planted about a foot apart and an inch deep. The sunflower stem will be tall before the actual head will start to form.

You can snack on the whole seed of the plant after roasting it in an oven and topping with salt. You can even process the seeds into a peanut butter alternative. Give them a try and then call your neighbors over to brag about just how tall your sunflowers have grown.

Joette is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. To share your gardening news with Joette, call (409) 832-1400 or fax her at (409) 832-6222. Her e-mail is joreger [at] msn [dot] com.