SUNFLOWER. The common sunflower, known botanically as Helianthus annuus, a member of the natural order Compositae, is a native of the western United States. It is an annual herb with a rough hairy stem 3 to 12 ft. high, broad coarsely toothed rough leaves 3 to 12 in. long, and heads of flowers 3 to 6 in. wide in wild specimens and often a foot or more in cultivated. Double forms are in cultivation, one (globosus fistulosus) having very large globular heads. The plant is valuable from an economic as well as from an ornamental point of view. The leaves are used as fodder, the flowers yield a yellow dye, and the seeds contain oil and are used for food. It is cultivated in Russia and other parts of Europe, in Egypt and India and in several parts of England hundreds of plants are grown on sewage farms for the seeds. The yellow sweet oil obtained by compression from the seeds is considered equal to olive or almond oil for table use. Sunflower oilcake is used for stock and poultry feeding, and largely exported by Russia to Denmark, Sweden and elsewhere. The genus Helianthus contains about fifty species, chiefly natives of North America, a few being found in Peru and Chile. They are tall, hardy annual or perennial herbs, several of which are well known in gardens where they are of easy cultivation in moderately good soil. If. decapetalus is a perennial about 5 ft. high with solitary heads about 2 in. across in slender twiggy branchlets; H. multiflorus is a beautiful species with several handsome double varieties; H. orygalis is a graceful perennial 6 to 10 ft. high, with drooping willow-like leaves and numerous comparatively small yellow flower-heads. H. atrorubens, better known as Harpalium rigidum, is a smaller plant, 2 to 3 ft. high, the flower heads of which have a dark red or purple disk and yellow rays. There are many fine forms of this now, some of which grow 6 to 9 ft. high and have much larger and finer flowers than the type. Other fine species are H. giganteus, 10 to 12 ft.; H. laetiflorus, 6 to 8 ft., and H. mollis, 3 to 5 ft. H. tuberosus is the Jerusalem artichoke.
Since the word " sunflower," or something corresponding to it, existed in English literature before the introduction of Helianthus annuus, or, at any rate, before its general diffusion ' in English gardens, it is obvious that some other flower must have been intended. The marigold (Calendula ojjkinalis) is considered by Dr Prior to have been the plant intended by Ovid (Met. iv. 269-270)
". ._. Ilia suum, quamvis radice tenetur, Vertitur ad solem; mutataque servat amorem " and likewise the solsaece of the Anglo-Saxon, a word equivalent to solsequium (sun-following). But this movement with the Sun is more imaginary than real, the better explanation for the application of the name to a flower being afforded by the resemblance to " the radiant beams of the Sun," as Gerard expresses it. The rock-rose (Helianlhemum iiulgare) was also termed sunflower in some of the herbals from its flowers opening only in the sunshine. Actinella grandiflora, a pretty perennial 6 to 9 in. high, from the Colorado mountains, is known as the Pigmy sunflower.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)