Sunflowers: Stars of the Fall

Mainly native to the Americas, sunflowers belong to the same plant family as Chrysanthemums, and Gerberas. Their Latin name, Helianthus, comes from the Greek words for sun, Helios, and flower, Anthos. This is due to the Sunflower’s habit of facing towards the sun and tracking its path throughout the day. This movement only occurs in young plants, and as Sunflowers reach maturity, the stems become fixed, permanently facing eastward. This habit is called heliotropism and is the reason you will see fields of Sunflowers all facing the same direction.

Like all members of the Asteraceae family, Sunflowers are not one flower, but a collection of many small flowers. The ‘petals’ of a Sunflower are actually individual flowers called Ray flowers, and the centers are made up of Disk flowers which produce the seeds. Collectively, the ray and disk flowers are called Heads.

Although often grown for their ornamental value, Sunflowers are also a valuable source of food. Their seeds can be eaten or be used to produce oil, and their leaves and stalks can be used for forage or silage.

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