Sunflowers: Smiling Faces for Sunny Places

By George and Becky Lohmiller
February 4, 2009
Smiling Sunflowers

The smiling faces of sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) growing in your yard are sure to brighten up even the gloomiest of days, whether planted in a long row along a fence or massed in a sunny border.

Types of Sunflowers

Everyone is familiar with the huge, dark-centered, sunshine-yellow sunflowers that grow on towering six- to eight-foot-tall stalks. But, did you know that some varieties top off at a modest 15 inches?

  • There are red, pink, white, bronze, orange, and bicolor sunflowers.
  • The shorter, small-flowered varieties (such as the golden ‘Teddy Bear’ and the dwarf ‘Music Box’ with cream to yellow bicolor blooms) are popular with flower arrangers and perfect for small gardens and containers.

Short History of Sunflowers

Found throughout America, sunflowers were cultivated by Native Americans as early as 3,000 B.C.

  • The meaty seeds were eaten raw or roasted and pounded into meal for making bread or gruel.
  • Oil pressed from the seeds was used for cooking and as a skin lotion and hair conditioner.
  • Yellow dye made from the flower petals and black or blue dye from the seeds were used for body paint and to color clothing.

Sunflower Uses

Today, acres of sunflowers are grown for the florist industry and for seed production.

  • Some varieties provide small black seeds that are used in cooking oil, margarine, cosmetics, and animal feed; they are the best sunflower seeds for attracting the greatest variety of songbirds. 
  • The bigger, striped seeds are grown for snacking and as an ingredient in bread and health foods. They, too, are used for feeding birds, especially larger species such as jays and mourning doves.
  • See over 15 recipes using sunflower seeds in your own kitchen!


Send this stunning sunflower picture to brighten a friend’s day!

Growing Sunflowers

Sunflower seeds may be started indoors or planted in the ground after all danger of frost has past. They are not fussy about soil, as long as it is well drained.

  • A light application of fertilizer mixed in at planting time will encourage strong root growth to protect them from blowing over in the wind.
  • Sow seeds one-half inch deep and six inches apart.
  • When the plants are six inches high, thin them to two feet.

Whether you grow the traditional tall, yellow sunflowers or a colorful mix of tall and short varieties, they all will put on a happy face that is sure to bring a smile to yours.

See our Sunflower Plant Guide for details on how to plant and care for sunflowers.

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