Helianthus annuus Linnaeus

Remark The words or terms in red (actually dark orange) in the text are defined in a glossary.

aug_25_10.gthmb can't be loaded. Helianthus annuus is widely distributed plant, including weedy, cultivated, and escaped plants. It is one of the American species to become a major agronomic crop. Helianthus annuus are branching and bushy coarse taprooted annuals that are from one to three meters high. They hybridizes with many of the other annual species. Their stems are erect, usually hispid. The wild version of Helianthus annuus is different from the cultivated versions raised as a seed crop and an ornamental. It is not the single stalk with a flower the size of a dinner plate at the top, so commonly depicted. The wild version has considerable branching and a smaller, looser seed head designed to shatter and disperse seed over a wide area. The plant is of major archaeological significance, it was of the first cultivated plants, grown for its oily seeds.

The chromosome number (2n) of Helianthus annuus is 34, It belongs to the Asteraceae family.


In classical Greek ανθοσ (anthos) means flower, and ηλιοσ (Ílios) is the sun. The genus scientific name refers to the flower heads that are somewhat sunlike when blooming or because the flower heads somewhat follow the sun by day, always turning towards its direct rays (heliotropism) hence the French common name Tournesol, although Helianthus flower heads do not follow the sun across the sky any more than other plants. And the genus common English name is just a translation of the scientific name or vice-versa.

In Latin, annuus is an adjective that means annual, lasting one year, coming back every year. Although the epithet applies to Helianthus annuus, this is not the only species of the Helianthus genus that is an annual.

Common names

Helianthus annuus is commonly known as Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Wild Sunflower and less commonly as American Mary-gold, Garden Sunflower. It common French vernacular name is Tournesol; it is also called Grand soleil.


draw_b.jpg can't be loaded. Helianthus annuus has also been known as:


Helianthus annuus is simple to recognize with its golden yellow ray florets radiating from a central brown pad of very numerous disk florets, with its often branched stem with several flower heads and with toothed, heart-shaped alternate leaves. The plant can be from 3 to 12 feet tall. It resembles many other plants of the Asteraceae family, the coneflower, the ox-eye daisy, etc., but it is not difficult to differentiate it from these other species.


Helianthus annuus grows from a fibrous root; its stem is erect, simple or branched above, rough stiff-hairy, and from 0.4 to 2 m tall.


Flower heads



Helianthus annuus is the resident of roadsides, dry fields, disturbed sites, waste land. It prefers open and dry to moderately moist soil. It does not tolerate heavy shade or acidic or waterlogged soil.


map_na.jpg can't be loaded. Although native to America Helianthus annuus is now distributed almost worldwide in temperate regions. Its range throughout North America is from about 55 degrees north latitude to northern Mexico. The map shows the Canadian provinces and the Territory as well as the USA states where the plant can be found.


Wild Helianthus annuus is highly branched with small heads and small seeds, in contrast to the single-stem and large seed head of domesticated Helianthus annuus. It can be weedy and invasive.

Helianthus annuus were cultivated for food by native American peoples long before the arrival of European settlers. It was domesticated around 1000 B.C. It was imported in Europe in 1510 as decorative plant, and only later cultivated for the seeds.

Helianthus annuus is the Kansas State flower, it is the floral emblem of Peru, it is the national flower of Russia.

Helianthus annuus is valuable from an economic, as well as from an ornamental point of view. Every part of the plant may be utilized for some economic purpose. The leaves form a cattle-food and the stems contain a fibre which may be used successfully in making paper. The seed is rich in oil, which is said to approach more nearly to olive oil than any other vegetable oil known and to be largely used as a substitute. Helianthus annuus oil is generally considered a premium oil because of its light color, high level of unsaturated fatty acids and lack of linolenic linolenic, bland flavor and high smoke point.

The plant was widely used by many Indian tribes of North America. The Apache used a poultice of crushed plants and applied it to snakebites. The Dakota used an infusion of the flowers for chest pains and for pulmonary troubles. The Gros Ventre used oil from the seeds to lubricate or paint the face or body; they also used dried, powdered seeds mixed into cakes and took them on war party to combat fatigue. The Kiowa chewed the coagulated sap to diminish thirst. The Navajo ate the seeds to give appetite. Etc.

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Helianthus annuus forms one of the well-known crops in Russia, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Egypt, India, Manchuria and Japan. The average acre will produce about 50 bushels of merchantable seeds, and each bushel yields approximately 1 gallon of oil, for which there is a whole series of important uses.

The seed makes excellent chicken-food and feeding fowls on bruised Helianthus annuus seeds is well known to increase their laying power.

The seeds of the large-seeded varieties are also much liked by Russians and are sold on the street. Big bowls of Helianthus annuus seeds are to be seen in the restaurants of railway stations, for people to eat. They can be eaten raw, cooked, roasted, or dried and ground for use in bread or cakes, as a snack. The seeds and the roasted seed shells have been used as a coffee substitute.

Yellow dyes have been made from the flowers, and black dyes from the seeds.

Some of the most well known paintings of Vincent Van Gogh are its Sunflowers series, the Paris sunflowers, painted in 1887, 4 paintings of 0ne to three flowers, and the Arles sunflowers, painted in 1888-1889, a few sunflowers in a vase, 7 paintings, all of them in museums but for one, and one that was destroyed by fire in the Second World War. In the 1980's one of them was bought in London for just under $ 40 millions.


The photos of the gallery were taken either with one of the following: Minolta DiMAGE 7, Canon PowerShot A530, Canon Xt Rebel, usually with the EF-S60mm f/2.8 Macro USM objective, Fujifilm A 610 and EPSON Perfection 1650 (scanner). The title in the window shows the date when the picture was taken, i.e. jan_30_06... would mean that the photo was taken on the 30th of January, the 06 is for the 6th picture taken that day. The month, day and picture number might be followed by a letter which I use to identify the system used to take the picture.

Click on the thumbnails to get larger view. The original photos are usually in TIFF format, the photos shown are generally in JPEG format, often of dimensions one half (surface one quarter) for loading time reduction.


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Flower heads

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