Plant Profile: Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus

Each year, the Dixon grows the annual sunflower Helianthus annuus in the Memphis Garden Club Cutting Garden.

Helianthus comprises a genus of around 70 annual and perennial species. The name Helianthus comes from the Greek helios, or sun, and anthos, or flower, alluding to the flower parts. Native to North and Central America, the sunflower is a member of the aster and daisy family, Asteraceae, and has been used in making flour or processed for oil, medicines, and soap since 3000 B.C.

The 4 1/2-foot tall plants produce showy flowers in different shades of lemon to golden yellow. Some sunflowers have interesting petal placement that look more like dahlias, as does Helianthus ‘Double Quick Orange’.

Helianthus can be grown from plugs or directly sowed. The seeds are attractive to many bird species, and recognized by pollination ecologists as attractive to large numbers of native bees. The Dixon does not directly sow seeds since birds consume them. The cut flowers form the bones of many summer arrangements created for the museum residence. The petals can be removed to create texture in floral designs.

Helianthus is a signature bloom for summer and a continuous crop is produced throughout the growing season in the cutting garden. We grow the ProCut and Sunrich series, which are single-stem and pollenless selections, with 55-60 days to maturity. When spaced further apart at planting, sunflowers grow thicker stems and larger flowerheads. This also helps cut down on mildew, a problem with growing sunflowers, as is the cucumber beetle.

As some sunflowers grow, they exhibit heliotropism or solar tracking. They grow as they tilt to face the sun during the day and drift back during the night, facing east once again. This movement ceases once they begin blooming, and although the phenomenon is well documented, we do not see it in our specimens.

Brown Brothers Harriman has generously sponsored the summer and autumn rotations in the Memphis Garden Club Cutting Garden and the Suzanne Mallory Formal Gardens, as well as the arrangements of cut flowers in the museum.

Posted by Kristen Rambo at 12:00 PM
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