Sun-loving, bright plant

SUNFLOWER HELIANTHUS Annuus is a large and coarse annual reaching a height of more than two metres. The plant comes from Western America and bears large saucer-shaped flowers. It belongs to the family Asteraceae (Compositae).

It is a sun-loving plant and the name is derived from the Greek words helios meaning sun and anthos, a flower. The flower turns in the direction of the sun thereby displaying the plant's liking for sunlight.

All parts of the plant are hairy. The leaves are ovate, rough and toothes reaching a maximum length of 30 cms. The flowers of some varieties are more than 25 cms across with the orange-yellow strap- shaped ray florets arranged around the receptacle and the darker smaller disc florets packed closely together in the centre.

Sunflower is a large plant often planted at the rear side of gardens as it does not go well with other smaller plants. It is quick growing and thrives in open sunny places even in ordinary soils. These plants are easy to grow -- by planting seeds in situ rather than by raising seedlings. Seeds should be planted 60 cms apart. As it towers over most other plants, sunflower plants make an excellent screen in the garden. To flower the plant takes two to two-and-a-half months after seed sowing.

Some varieties of Helianthus Annus are grown for their seeds, which yield valuable edible oil. Roasted seeds make a nutritious and tasty food. After extraction of oil the residue forms a good cattle feed. Varieties grown for seed are usually larger sized plants.

Besides yellow, some of the varieties bear mahogany and bronze-coloured flowers. Some bear flowers that are Chrysanthemum-shaped. Varieties like `Nana' and `Teddy Bear' are smaller plants reaching a height of 50 cms. The smaller plants can be grown in beds with interspaces of 25-30 cms or singly in medium-sized pots.

Sunflowers can be grown throughout the year though they do better in the rainy season. They are a perennial source of cut flowers. Though not particular about the kind of soil, they do need good watering especially in the dry, summer months.


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