Sunflowers offer cheerful blooms and tasty seeds, too

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.

Local company grows sunflowers for research

WAIALUA (KHNL) – It’s easy to find sunshine just about anywhere in Hawaii. If you’ve ever taken a drive to Waialua on the north shore, a field of bright yellow flowers will surely put a smile on your face. Unfortunately, these beauties are not for sale.

Sunflowers set off a glow of sunshine across this forty acre parcel of land. The flowers stand tall, with their full round faces pointing toward the bright sun in the eastern sky.

“Perfect year round growing conditions, no extreme highs, no extreme lows relatively stable weather conditions throughout the year,” said Alika Napier of Pioneer Seed.

Pioneer Plant Seed Hawaii grows these sunflowers, for research. It’s a form of quality control. Researchers visually monitor the plants for uniformity. As the plants grow they also look to see if there are any genetic changes due to the environment.

“From there it’s just monitoring for insects, pests, diseases, fertilizing the crop, irrigation and it basically grows itself,” said Napier.

Data collected is forwarded to a main office in California. Because of Hawaii’s perfect growing conditions, the islands play a vital role in growing and gathering research.

“We send the product here to grow up and what it is we’ll have people come by and look at the flower and see if it meets the desired traits,” said Napier.

Eight to ten different varieties of sunflowers are grown here.

The ideal weather also allows the company to monitor other types of vegetables grown here during the year.