Flowers conjure a variety of emotional and sensory responses as well as memories. Loving sentiments are often attached to roses. Violets are sometimes associated with youthful sweetness and a bouquet of daisies brings cheer into any room. Gladiolas often appear in funeral arrangements and the scent of lavender might stir memories of fields of flowers on a hot summer day. A sunflower’s appearance literally fills the space with sunlight.
Though the sunflower, Helianthus annus, has been widely cultivated to produce flowers with different colors, shapes and sizes, the basic structure of the inflorescence continues to be reminiscent of the sun.
Most varieties maintain an attraction to sunlight with heliotropic buds that move to follow the sun and mature flowers that face the rising sun in the east. The botanical name Helianthus is derived from the Greek words helios for sun and anthos for flower.
Sunflowers are members of the largest family of flowering plants, the Asteraceae family. Like most family members, sunflowers have composite heads consisting of hundreds of tiny flowers clustered in the center of rays of petals that can vary in size and color depending on the cultivar. The flowers on edible varieties produce delicious seeds when pollinated. Many ornamental cultivars have been bred for their long-lasting beauty as cut flowers.
The original sunflower was an oilseed plant native to temperate North America. It was transported to Europe in the 16th century and nearly 100 cultivars, including many ornamental varieties, have since been developed.
Several edible varieties are recommended for West Hawaii gardens. The most popular, and the largest, is the Russian mammoth. Russian breeding in the 1800s produced this giant with bright gold petals and heads that reach 10 to 12 inches across on 8- to 10-foot stalks. The flowers that make up the head result in gray and white seeds.
The edible snack seed hybrid is somewhat smaller, reaching about 6 feet. This variety produces deep golden petals and heads that produce plump seed kernels.
Fields of gold
Pioneer Hi-Bred grows sunflowers on Oahu, one part of the isles’ rapidly growing seed industry
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 26, 2009
Drivers passing by a stretch of Farrington Highway in Waialua on Oahu’s North Shore likely have seen a field of sunflowers reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting.
Pioneer Hi-Bred International of Iowa, a biotech seed company, planted the bright yellow sunflowers on 85 acres for a three-month period this year as part of its operations.
The sunflowers were planted in mid-October and likely will finish blooming this week, according to Pioneer Hi-Bred spokeswoman Cindy Goldstein. It is the fifth year in a row Pioneer has planted the sunflowers, which include up to 28 different hybrid varieties.
The sunflower seeds are evaluated for quality standards in Hawaii, and if approved, the same varieties are grown and harvested in California.
"Hawaii serves a vital role because we can do a very quick grow-out here as part of quality production and get quick results to report back," said Goldstein.
Hawaii has the ideal climate and growing conditions for sunflowers year-round.
The seeds, according to Goldstein, are then sold to Midwestern farmers, who crush them to make sunflower oil, which is in high demand in European markets.