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Sunflower FAQ

Starting Out

The Sunflower (Helianthus Annuus) is a native to North America but made popularize in Russia. In recent times it returned to the North America to become a popular crop. The American Native Americans were the first ones who domesticated the flower into a single-headed plant with different colorations of the seeds the colors including black, black and white striped, white and red.

Native Americans Role

Throughout North America the sunflower was a regular crop amongst the Native Americans. Some studies suggest “the plant was cultivated by American Indians in present-day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 B.C. Some archaeologists suggest that sunflowers may have been domesticated before corn.” Native American Tribes would use sunflowers in many ways. “Some tribes mixed the meal with other vegetables such as beans, squash, and corn. The seed was also cracked and eaten for a snack. There are references of squeezing the oil from the seed and using the oil in making bread. Non-food uses include purple dye for textiles, body painting and other decorations. Parts of the plant were used medicinally ranging from snakebite to other body ointments. The oil of the seed was used on the skin and hair. The dried stalk was used as a building material. The plant and the seeds were widely used in ceremonies.”

Development in Europe

When Spanish explorers showed up to North American the flower was taken to Europe. It became a widespread throughout Europe. “By 1716 an English patent was granted for squeezing oil from sunflower seed.”

Sunflower gained popularity as a cultivated plant around the 18th century. “Most of the credit is given to Peter the Great. The plant was initially used as an ornamental, but by 1769 literature mentions sunflower cultivated by oil production. By 1830, the manufacture of sunflower oil was done on a commercial scale. The Russian Orthodox Church increased its popularity by forbidding most oil foods from being consumed during Lent. However, sunflower was not on the prohibited list and therefore gained in immediate popularity as a food.

By the early 19th century, Russian farmers were growing over 2 million acres of sunflower. During that time, two specific types had been identified: oil-type for oil production and a large variety for direct human consumption. Government research programs were implemented. V. S. Pustovoit developed a very successful breeding program at Krasnodar. Oil contents and yields were increased significantly. Today, the world’s most prestigious sunflower scientific award is known as The Pustovoit Award.”

Back to North America

Around the 19th century Russian sunflowers made its way to the United States. “By 1880, seed companies were advertising the ‘Mammoth Russian’ sunflower seed in catalogues. This particular seed name was still being offered in the US in 1970, nearly 100 years later. A likely source of this seed movement to North America may have been Russian immigrants. The first commercial use of the sunflower crop in the US was silage feed for poultry. In 1926, the Missouri Sunflower Growers’ Association participated in what is likely the first processing of sunflower seed into oil. Canada started the first official government sunflower breeding program in 1930. The basic plant breeding material utilized came from Mennonite (immigrants from Russia) gardens. Acreage spread because of oil demand. By 1946, Canadian farmers built a small crushing plant. Acreage spread into Minnesota and North Dakota. In 1964, the Government of Canada licensed the Russian cultivar called Peredovik. This seed produced high yields and high oil content. Acreage increased in the US with commercial interest in the production of sunflower oil. Sunflower was hybridized in the middle seventies providing additional yield and oil enhancement as well as disease resistance.”

Return to Europe

Around the late 1970s the U.S. acreage rose to over 5 million due to European demand for sunflower oil. Russian became overwhelmed with the growing demand for sunflower oil. European companies turned to the U.S. sunflower industry. “Europeans imported sunflower seed that was then crushed in European mills.” Western Europe continues to be a large consumer today, but for the most part depends on it’s own production.

Reference: https://www.sunflowernsa.com/all-about/history/


The sunflower was “domesticated 4000 years ago by Native Americans in Eastern North America.” During the domestication it changed from having branched, and many headed flower with smaller seeds to a single head containing much larger oilseeds. There are studies taking place to discover more about the sunflower geonome and to better understand the history of the sunflower and how it evolved to what we see today. “Current projects are focused on determining the molecular and developmental functions of domestication alleles affecting sunflower life history and growth.”

Reference: https://nature.berkeley.edu/blackmanlab/Blackman_Lab/Sunflower_Domestication.html


8 Stages of Sunflower growth

  1. Planting the seed. Day 1: “The seed is the dormant undeveloped stage of the plant. This is where the life cycle is waiting to begin… Within this whole seed is all the nutrients and genetic information to grow another sunflower.”
  2. Day 2-10: Underground the roots break out and a shoot starts to develop. The shoot finds the surface looking for the sun.
  3. The seedling, leaf, and plant development. Day 10-35: During this period, it grows the most. “The Sunflower usually has 2 baby leaves on it and quickly grows many more as the stem grows. The first few sets of leaves are oval shaped as it matures the leaves look more heart like.
  4. Growing a Bud. Day 35-65: A bud starts to grow, the bud “is trying to get all the hours of sunlight it can in order to get as much energy for the bud to develop and enlarge.”
  5. Day 65-85: The bud begins to flower. This is when we start to see the beautiful petals of the plant.
  6. Day 65-85: While the flower is blooming the pollination, period begins as well. Bees will come and drink on the nectar of the sunflower and pollen gets stuck to their Bee-Hinds and bee-gin to transfer the pollen to other flowers.
  7. Seed Development. Day 85-105: “The fertilized seeds start to develop and ripen.” This process attracts birds, small critters, and bugs to eat the sunflower seeds.
  8. Day 105-125: The seeds are ready to harvest. This leads to the cycle starting all over again.

Reference: https://shesaidsunflower.com/sunflower-growth-timeline-life-cycle-8-stages/