Sunday, August 28, 2011
Sunflowers: Not Just a "Weed"
Helianthus is the genus name for Sunflower. It’s derived from the Greek words helios meaning “sun” and anthos meaning “flower”. There are around 60 different species of sunflowers. Sunflowers are related to daisies, asters, marigolds, dandelions and Black-eyed Susans.
This is the plant everyone thinks of when they hear the word Sunflower. Read on to learn about it's amazing properties .
Sunflower achenes (seeds) have been found at many archaeological sites in the U.S. At prehistoric sites in Arizona, several sunflower disks have been found, as well as designs of the flowers incorporated in their pottery. In 1492, after the discovery of America, the sunflower was taken to Europe and then to Russia. After that it was reintroduced into America, which changed the flower--and now practically all the flowers cultivated in America are of Russian origin.
Perhaps the greatest use of the plant was for pulmonary, or lung afflictions. Sunflowers were put to this use all over the world. It was the main medical staple of many Indians. The Dakota and the Pawnee Indians made a decoction from the head of the sunflower, which they would drink for respiratory ailments, such as bronchitis, lung infections and pleurisy.
The Chinese have used the fibers from the flower to make things like fabrics and paper. One of the lightest substances known is the pith, which is the interior of the stalk. This substance is used in scientific labs.
The plant has an amazing ability to absorb water from the soil, and because of this it has been used to reclaim marshland in the Netherlands.
Sunflower oil is used in a variety of different things such as salad dressings, cooking oils and in the manufacture of margarine and shortening. Other industrial uses of the oil are for making paints and cosmetics. The roasted seeds can make a coffee-like drink. In countries where the flowers can be grown, the seed cake that is left over after the oil is extracted is fed to livestock.
In the Soviet Union the hulls are used in the manufacture of ethyl alcohol (also known as ethanol), in lining for plywood and for growing yeast . Ethanol has widespread use as a solvent of substances intended for human contact or consumption, including scents, flavorings, colorings, and medicines. In chemistry, it is both an essential solvent and a feedstock for the synthesis of other products. It has a long history as a fuel for heat and light, and more recently as a fuel for our vehicles. Fuel has also been made from the dried stems of the flower. The stems also make a great fertilizer because they contain phosphorous and potassium.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) a Sunflower relative common along Missouri roadsides
These awesome plants are more than just food for birds or an ornamental feature in a summer garden. Sunflowers and their wild cousins are at their peak bloom in late summer and early fall.
Tickseed Sunflower (Bidens aristosa) another Sunflower family relative commonly seen in our area
In the next few weeks, here in Missouri, we will suddenly see them everywhere. So the next time you’re driving to the World Bird Sanctuary, keep your eyes peeled for the swaths of yellow that blanket the fields and roadsides. Those under-appreciated yellow flowers growing along the roadside are not “just a weed”.
Submitted by Jaimie Sansoucie, World Bird Sanctuary Seasonal Staff Member