William Cullen Bryant
One of the bright spots as summer wanes is the appearance of the sunflowers, helianthus. Not just the annual sunflower, but the perennial native sunflowers found throughout North America. Helianthus, part of the Aster Family (Asteraceae), is one of my favorite late season flowers. The bright yellow flowers are so profuse they practically glow in the morning sunlight in my garden. So it seems only natural that I would want to highlight this plant for the wonderful meme Dozen for Diana@ Elephant’s Eye, and for Gail@Clay and Limestone’s equally wonderful Wildflower Wednesday.
Some species can grow up to 10 feet tall with oodles of yellow flowers dazzling along roadsides here. Around the US you will find different helianthus in prairies and meadows as well as in swampy areas. Helianthus grows from creeping rhizomes which can be very aggressive in some species. And I have them seeding around in my garden with the help of wind and birds. So when planting helianthus you want to give it lots of space.
Helianthus tuberosus, Jerusalem artichoke, is one of the oldest helianthus and is native to North America. It is said to have originated in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. The first report of this plant was in 1605 by Champlain the European explorer. Champlain reportedly observed Native Americans growing Jerusalem artichoke along with corn and beans in a Cape Cod garden. Helianthus tuberosus was introduced to Europe in 1612 where it gained popularity. Its range extends from the East Coast to the Midwest, and from southern Canada to Georgia.
The common name, helianthus, is made up of 2 greek words: helios, “sun”, and anthos, “flower” which is why these plants are commonly referred to as sunflowers including the popular annual sunflower, Helianthus annuus. There are 52 species of helianthus, all of which are native to North America.
Helianthus divaricatus, a native to my area, is also known as Woodland sunflower and Rough sunflower.
Helianthus maximiliani, naturalized to my area, is called Maximilian sunflower or Max sunflower. This plant was named for the naturalist Prince Maximilian, who explored the American West in the 1830s.
Bring me the sunflower crazed with the love of light”
Helianthus is a food source for many animals. The seed heads of helianthus are prized by birds especially finches. It also provides cover for wildlife. I have found frogs, snakes and voles beneath the dense growth. Helianthus is a nectar and larval plant for Silvery Checkerspot butterfly and Bordered Patch butterflies. The nectar of the helianthus flowers attracts native bees. And Helianthus maximiliani has been used as a food source for livestock.
Helianthus, Jerusalem artichoke is also eaten by livestock and deer particularly the foliage and tubers. It is an amazing plant as it produces more alcohol than either corn or sugarbeet.
Helianthus is a great plant in the back of the garden for screening and in meadows. It is a must for a butterfly garden and lovely pond side where I have one planted.
In 1805 Lewis and Clark dined on Jerusalem artichoke tubers as they are highly nutritious. Today you can find these tubers in produce sections. Eat them boiled or roasted like potatoes. Even raw, they are said to be sweet with a nut-like taste. The common name, Jerusalem artichoke, is a said to come from a corruption of the Italian girasole, meaning turning to the sun.
The common sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is the state flower of Kansas. In the 1800s American settlers planted sunflowers near their home to ward off malaria.
Fibers from sunflower stalks were used for cloth. They were also dried and smoked like tobacco. Seed husks were ground and made into a coffee like drink. A permanent yellow dye was made from the flower petals.
Incas worshipped the sunflower as a symbol of the sun. Spanish explorers brought seeds back where they were cultivated and hybridized and then reintroduced in America. North American Indians were found cultivating sunflowers along Lake Huron. They used ground seeds for flour and oil. The oil was used for cooking, making soap and mixing paints and for their hair.
Language of Flowers
Sunflowers have many meanings including loyalty, adoration, pride, appreciation and haughtiness which comes from the height of the flower.
“If I were a flower.. I would be a sunflower. To always follow the sun, Turn my back to darkness, Stand proud, tall and straight even with my head full of seeds.” Pam Stewart
Check out other posts in the series, Simply the Best:
Next up on the blog: The last Monday in October will be a contemplative post about rain. As November comes it will be time for another Gardens Eye Journal to look back at October in the garden.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.
I hope you will join me for my posts once a month on the 3rd Tuesday, at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. The latest post is up now about the snakes returning to the garden.
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