Helianthus, better known as Sunflower, is a genus of about 70 species of annuals and perennials in the daisy family (Asteraceae), native to North America, with a few species from South America.
Sunflowers have big, daisy-like flowers in bright colors often with a contrasting darker centre and large, bristly, dark green leaves. These sun-loving plants are recognized worldwide for their beauty, as well as agricultural importance.
The genus name is derived from the Greek words “helios” (“sun”) and “anthos” (“flower”), in reference to the flower’s tendency to turn towards the sun.
Helianthus meanings can vary across cultures, but most commonly it means faithfulness, worship, adoration and loyalty.
Interesting facts about Helianthus:
Why Do Sunflowers Follow the Sun?
Some plants move their flowers or leaves towards the light source. This movement is called heliotropism. Heliotropism is the motion of plant parts in response to the direction of the sun, enhancing the photosynthesis process and increasing growth rates.
Sunflowers are one of several plant species that make optimum use of light by tracing the direction of the sun.
The World’s Tallest Sunflower
The tallest Sunflower ever recorded measures in at 9.17 metres and was grown by Hans-Peter Schiffer, who has broken the Guinness World Record for the tallest Sunflower three times.
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) was one of the greatest painters in history. Some of Vincent van Gogh’s most popular works are his Sunflowers, which are among the most famous paintings in the world.
Van Gogh’s obsession with Sunflowers is still a mystery and, actually, he never stated why he liked them so much. Once he wrote that Sunflowers mean gratitude to him.
The Sunflowers were also painted by other famous painters, including William Blake (1757 – 1827) Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) and Allen Ginsberg (1926 – 1997).
Benefits and Uses
As well as being a beautiful sight in the landscape, Helianthus was used in many ways throughout the history and still today has many practical uses and properties. Some species are grown for their seeds and oil, while others are grown as an ornamental. If we speak about countries, Russia is the largest producer of commercial Sunflowers.
Sunflowers have a long tradition of being grown for food.
You can eat many parts of the plant. Seeds can be consumed raw or cooked, while petals, leaves and roots can be used to make tea.
Sunflower oil, a popular vegetable oil extracted from the seeds of Sunflower, is a source of many health benefits. It contains fiber, vitamin E and low levels of saturated fats and its widely known for its mild flavour and ability to withstand high cooking temperatures. It is commonly used as a cooking oil as well as in cosmetic formulations. It can also be added to lubricants and candles.
Sunflower has been used as a medicine to protect the body from numerous diseases. It has been used to reduce blood pressure, to cure snake and insect bites, to treat malaria, fever, bronchitis, whooping cough, hemorrhoids, anemia, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases and malignant cancers. Its also good for digestion, brain health and sexual power.
Sunflowers can also be used to make a dye, for body painting, for cleaning contaminated water, in textile industry and in some ceremonies.
Although yellow is the original color, Sunflowers also come in shades of cream, red, orange and purple that contrast with deep brown centers.
Although there are some dwarf species that grow 30-60 cm (1-2 ft) tall, Sunflowers are usually tall plants which can grow up to 3 metres (10 ft) in height.
Sunflowers grow best in fertile, well drained soil, with a pH range between 6.0 and 7.5.