Mammoth Sunflowers

Garden Musings: The Lifecycle of a Sunflower

I can’t think of anything quite as fascinating to watch grow as sunflowers. From seed to flower and back to seed again, the entire life cycle of this summer flower is not only beautiful but also serves many important purposes. As a gardener, I love sunflowers because they are easy to grow, attract beneficial insects, provide a pop of color to the garden, and produce delicious seeds. But there are many other great reasons to love sunflowers, such as…

  • Sunflowers are often used for the drying of wetlands and cleaning of contaminated soil, waste waters, lead, and radioactive substances, due to their deep roots and ability to soak up water and harmful substances.
  • Sunflower seeds might just be nature’s perfect food. They are a good source of selenium, which inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells. They are also high in B-1, B-5, phosphorous, tryptophan, copper, B-6, manganese, folate, fiber, iron and zinc. They also have no cholesterol and sprouted sunflower seeds are an excellent source of amino acids and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
  • Sunflower stems have been used to make paper, clothing, as fuel for fire, and to make microscope slide mounts. The stems were also once used to fill life preservers.
  • During World War II, the use of Sunflower oil increased. There was a shortage of the Russian Mammoth seed, so people began using the American Giant seed instead. The giant sunflowers grow one big flower, which usually gets too heavy to turn and follow the sun. For you math fans, there is an interesting side note about these types of sunflowers—their seeds conform to the Fibonacci sequence.

This summer I grew 10 American giant seed and 5 mammoth sunflowers. I was able to capture most of their life cycle on camera. Enjoy this photo compilation of the amazing sunflower! ❤

The Lifecycle of a Sunflower

It all starts with a seed…

Seed

After about a week that seed sprouts and a small seedling emerges.

Sunflower Sprouts
Sunflower seedlings. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

Soon after transplanting the seedling to the garden, it grows quickly and starts to form a single bud when it reaches roughly 6 feet in height.

Unopened Sunflower Head
Sunflower bud. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

The sunflower will continue to grow until it reaches a final height of about 10-12 feet. Then the sunflower bud will peel back its’ outer leaves and begin to open in a spectacular display.

Sunflower Opening
Sunflower opening. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

Once the outer petals of the sunflower has opened, the center disk florets begins to expand.

Mammoth Sunflowers
Sunflower opening. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

And continue to expand, meanwhile turning their heads towards the sunlight.

Pollen on Sunflower
Sunflower pollen. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

Interesting fact: Sunflowers are known as composite flowers. The large flower head at the top of the stalk is often referred to as one flower but is actually hundreds of small flowers. The dark center is made up of disk flowers that have five brown petals fused together into a tubular shape. The male, stamen, and female, stigma, are both present in disk flowers. The stamen is composed of filament and pollen-producing anthers. The stigma houses the style, which receives the pollen and allows it to travel down to the ovary, where the unfertilized seeds, ovules, are located. This is the process of pollination that enables the flowers to produce seeds.

Sunflower Pollen
Sunflower pollen. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

Their is so much pollen it begins to fall on the leaves.

Sunflower Pollen
Sunflower pollen. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

Of course, all this pollen is a magnet for beneficial insects such as bees…

Bees doing work.
Bees on sunflower. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

and butterflies.

Butterfly on Sunflower
Butterfly on sunflower. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

After the flowers have been pollinated, seeds begin to form underneath.

Early Sunflower Seeds
Early sunflower seeds. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

As the seeds grow, the head of the sunflower begins to droop downward under the weight. One could say the sunflower almost looks sad as it nears the end of its’ life.

Mammoth Sunflower Head
Sad sunflower. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

Once the back of the sunflower head turns yellow and the leaves have dried,  it’s time to harvest. At this point, one sunflower head can be as large as 14 inches in diameter.

How to Grow Mammoth Sunflowers

To harvest, you simply cut off the head of the sunflower.

How to Harvest Sunflowers

The seeds of the sunflower are an amazing example of the mathematical elements found in nature as they conform to the Fibonacci sequence.

White Mammoth Sunflower Seeds
White mammoth sunflower seeds. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

Each seed is tightly nestled next to one another just waiting to be eaten or grown into a new sunflower.

Mammoth Sunflower Seeds
Black and white mammoth sunflower seeds. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

As you pull out each seed, it revels the beautiful yellow pocket it grew in.

Black Mammoth Sunflower
Black mammoth sunflower seeds. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

After harvesting, I typically save a few envelopes of seeds to grow next year. Then I brine the remaining seeds in a salt bath and roast them. The seeds that are too small to be eaten go in a special pile for the birds.

Roasted Sunflower Seeds
Roasted sunflower seeds. © Stephanie Gonzalez and neverthyme.com, 2017

The sunflower is a plant to be valued and appreciated for more than just an ornamental fixture in a summer garden. They are beautiful and beneficial during their entire lifecycle and make a fantastic photography subject. 😉 Add a few sunflowers to your next garden and they will put a smile on your face. Happy gardening!

5 thoughts on “Garden Musings: The Lifecycle of a Sunflower

  1. Your post is both informative and lovely.💛 Due to the insistence of a son, we planted a few sunflower seeds and got three plants. One is flowering and is just as delightful as a whole field of sunflowers. Ours is the smallish variety but I am surprised to have one at all. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How lovely to present the whole life-cycle.
    Slugs devastated mine- only one left! I used to grow various varieties when the children were small, I like the deep red sunflowers.
    Also: Your photographs are beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Oh no – sorry to hear about the slugs! I have trouble with them too. I’ve started planting my sunflowers in pots and waiting to transplant them to the ground until they are about 1′ in height. That has helped them withstand the slug attacks a bit better than sowing them directly in the ground. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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