Temporal range: Eocene-recent[1]
Common Sunflower
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Heliantheae
Genus: Helianthus

Harpalium (Cass.) Cass.

Helianthus (/ˌhliˈænθəs/)[3] is a genus comprising about 70 species of annual and perennial flowering plants in the daisy family Asteraceae commonly known as sunflowers.[4][5] Except for three South American species, the species of Helianthus are native to North America and Central America. The most popular species of sunflower is the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus), whose round flower heads in combination with the ligules look like the Sun.[6] This and other species, notably Jerusalem artichoke (H. tuberosus), are cultivated in temperate regions and some tropical regions as food crops for humans, cattle, and poultry, and as ornamental plants.[7] The species H. annuus typically grows during the summer and into early fall, with the peak growth season being mid-summer.[8]

Several perennial Helianthus species are grown in gardens, but have a tendency to spread rapidly and can become aggressive. On the other hand, the whorled sunflower, Helianthus verticillatus, was listed as an endangered species in 2014 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule protecting it under the Endangered Species Act. The primary threats are industrial forestry and pine plantations in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. They grow to 1.8 m (6 ft) and are primarily found in woodlands, adjacent to creeks and moist, prairie-like areas.[9]


Close-up of a sunflower
Close-up of a sunflower
The disk of a sunflower is made up of many little flowers. The ray flowers here are dried
The disk of a sunflower is made up of many little flowers. The ray flowers here are dried
In North Carolina
Sunflower florets are arranged in a natural spiral having a Fibonacci sequence
Sunflower florets are arranged in a natural spiral having a Fibonacci sequence


Sunflowers originate in the Americas. They were first domesticated in what is now Mexico and the Southern United States.[10][11] Domestic sunflower seeds have been found in Mexico, dating to 2100 BCE. Native American people grew sunflowers as a crop from Mexico to Southern Canada.[11] In the 16th century the first crop breeds were brought from America to Europe by explorers.[11]


Sunflowers are thought to have been domesticated 3000–5000 years ago by Native Americans who would use them primarily as a source for edible seeds. They were then introduced to Europe in the early 16th century and made their way to the Russian Empire. In the Russian Empire, where oilseed cultivators were located, these flowers were developed and grown on an industrial scale. The Russian Empire then reintroduced this oilseed cultivation process to North America in the mid-20th century; North America began their commercial era of sunflower production and breeding.[12] New breeds of the Helianthus spp. began to become more prominent in new geographical areas.

This species' geographical history accounts for its evolutionary history, with its levels of genetic variation across its gene pool increasing as new hybrids are created both for commercial use and in the wild. Subsequent to this, sunflower species are also experiencing the bottle neck effect in their gene pool as a result of selective breeding for industrial use.[12]

Facing the Sun

Before blooming, sunflower plants tilt during the day to face the Sun in order to gain more sunlight for photosynthesis. This heliotropism continues for a short time when the plant blooms, young sunflower heads tracking of the Sun. This is thought to help attract pollinators, as many are more attracted to warm flowers. By the time they are mature, though, sunflowers generally stop moving to remain facing east. which lets them be warmed by the rising sun.[13] The movement of sunflowers through heliotropism happens as the sunflower follows the Sun, the opposite side of the sunflower stem begins to accumulate growth hormones and this causes growth which redirects the sunflower.[13][14] The rough and hairy stem is branched in the upper part in wild plants, but is usually unbranched in domesticated cultivars.[13]


Young woman standing in an Oklahoma sunflower field
Young woman standing in an Oklahoma sunflower field

Sunflowers are usually tall annual or perennial plants that in some species can grow to a height of 300 cm (120 in) or more. Each "flower" is actually a disc made up of tiny flowers, to form a larger false flower to better attract pollinators. The plants bear one or more wide, terminal capitula (flower heads made up of many tiny flowers), with bright yellow ray florets (mini flowers inside a flower head) at the outside and yellow or maroon (also known as a brown/red) disc florets inside. Several ornamental cultivars of H. annuus have red-colored ray florets; all of them stem from a single original mutant.[15] While the majority of sunflowers are yellow, there are branching varieties in other colours including, orange, red and purple.

The petiolate leaves are dentate and often sticky. The lower leaves are opposite, ovate, or often heart-shaped.

This genus is distinguished technically by the fact that the ray florets (when present) are sterile, and by the presence on the disk flowers of a pappus that is of two awn-like scales that are caducous (that is, easily detached and falling at maturity). Some species also have additional shorter scales in the pappus, and one species lacks a pappus entirely. Another technical feature that distinguishes the genus more reliably, but requires a microscope to see, is the presence of a prominent, multicellular appendage at the apex of the style. Further, the florets of a sunflower are arranged in a natural spiral.[16]

Variability is seen among the perennial species that make up the bulk of those in the genus. Some have most or all of the large leaves in a rosette at the base of the plant and produce a flowering stem that has leaves that are reduced in size. Most of the perennials have disk flowers that are entirely yellow, but a few have disk flowers with reddish lobes. One species, H. radula, lacks ray flowers altogether.

Overall, the macroevolution of the Heliabthus is driven by multiple biotic and abiotic factors and influences various floral morphology.[17]

Helianthus species are used as food plants by the larvae of many lepidopterans. The seeds of H. annuus are used as human food.

Growth stages

Gahkuch, Pakistan
Gahkuch, Pakistan

The growth of a sunflower depends strictly on its genetic makeup and background.[18] Additionally, the season it is planted will have effects on its development; those seasons tend to be in the middle of summer and beginning of fall. Sunflower development is classified by a series of vegetative stages and reproductive stages that can be determined by identifying the heads or main branch of a single head or branched head.[18]


The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine. During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the sunflower became a worldwide symbol of solidarity with Ukraine.[19]


Sunflower seed production – 2020
Country (Millions of tonnes)
 Russia 13.3
 Ukraine 13.1
 Argentina 3.2
 China 2.4
 Romania 2.2
 Turkey 2.1
 United States 1.4
World 50.2
Source: FAOSTAT of the United Nations[20]

In 2020, world production of sunflower seeds was 50 million tonnes, led by Russia and Ukraine with 53% combined of the total (table).

Fertilizer use

Researchers have analyzed the impact of various nitrogen-based fertilizers on the growth of sunflowers. Ammonium nitrate was found to produce better nitrogen absorption than urea, which performed better in low-temperature areas.[21]

Production in Brazil

In Brazil, a unique system of production called the soybean-sunflower system is used: sunflowers are planted first, and then soybean crops follow, reducing idle periods and increasing total sunflower production and profitability. Sunflowers are usually planted in the extreme southern or northern regions of the country. Frequently, in the southern regions, sunflowers are grown in the beginning of rainy seasons, and soybeans can then be planted in the summer.[22] Researchers have concluded that the soybean-sunflower method of plantation could be further improved through changes in fertilizer use. The current method has been shown to have positive environmental impacts.[23]


Rose-ringed parakeet feeding on sunflower
Rose-ringed parakeet feeding on sunflower

Sunflowers have been proven to be excellent plants to attract beneficial insects, including pollinators. Helianthus spp. are a nectar producing flowering plant that attract pollinators and parasitoids which reduce the pest populations in nearby crop vegetation. Sunflowers attract different beneficial pollinators (e.g., honey bees) and other known insect prey to feed on and control the population of parasitic pests that could be harmful to the crops.[24] Predacious insects are first attracted to sunflowers once they are planted. Once the Helianthus spp. reaches six inches and produces flowers it begins to attract more pollinators. Distance between sunflower rows and crop vegetation plays an important role in this phenomenon, hypothesizing that closer proximity to the crops will increase insect attraction.[24]

In addition to pollinators of Helianthus spp., there are other factors such as abiotic stress, florivory, and disease which also contribute to the evolution of floral traits. These selective pressures, which stem from several biotic and abiotic factors are associated with habitat environmental conditions which all play a role in the overall morphology of the sunflowers’ floral traits.[25]

An ecosystem is composed of both biotic (which are living elements of an ecosystem such as plants, animals, fungi, protists, and bacteria), and abiotic factors (non-living elements of an ecosystem such as air, soil, water, light, salinity and temperature).[26]

It is thought that two biotic factors can explain for the evolution of larger sunflowers and why they are present in more drier environments.[25] For one thing, the selection by pollinators is thought to have increased the sunflower’s size in a drier environment.[25] This is because in a drier environment, there are typically less pollinators.[25] As a result, in order for the sunflower to be able to attract more pollinators, they had to increase the morphology of their floral traits in that they had to increase their display size.[25] Another biotic factor that can explain for the evolution of larger sunflowers in drier environments is that the pressure from florivory and disease favors smaller flowers in habitats that have a more moderate supply of moisture (mesic habitat).[25] Wetter environments usually have more dense vegetation, more herbivores, and more surrounding pathogens.[25] As larger flowers are typically more susceptible to disease and florivory, smaller flowers may have evolved in wetter environments which explains the evolution of larger sunflowers in more drier environments.[25]


Accepted species

There are many species recognized in the genus:[27][28]

Formerly included

The following species were previously included in the genus Helianthus.[27]


See also


  1. ^ Edwards, Lin (September 28, 2010). "Early sunflower family fossil found in South America". Archived from the original on March 26, 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Helianthus". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  3. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book. Leisure Arts. 1995. pg. 606–607.
  4. ^ Schilling, Edward E. (2006). "Helianthus". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 21. New York and Oxford – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  5. ^ "Sunflower Production". North Dakota State University. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  6. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th ed. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. 2007. p. 3804. ISBN 978-0-19-920687-2.
  7. ^ RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1-4053-3296-5.
  8. ^ "Conservation Plant Characteristics - Helianthus annuus L. common sunflower HEAN3". USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  9. ^ Remillard, Ashley (August 4, 2014) "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Issues Final Rule Protecting Three Flowers" Archived 2014-08-12 at the Wayback Machine Endangered Species Law and Policy Blog, Nossaman LLP
  10. ^ Genetics, Genomics and Breeding of Sunflower, (CRC Press, 8 Apr 2010) edited by Jinguo Hu, Gerald Seiler, C. Kole, page 8
  11. ^ a b c Plant Evolution and the Origin of Crop Species, By James F. Hancock (CABI, 2012), page 188
  12. ^ a b Park, Brian; Burke, John M. (2020-02-29). "Phylogeography and the Evolutionary History of Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.): Wild Diversity and the Dynamics of Domestication". Genes. 11 (3): 266. doi:10.3390/genes11030266. ISSN 2073-4425. PMC 7140811. PMID 32121324.
  13. ^ a b c Atamian, Hagop S.; Creux, Nicky M.; Brown, Evan A.; Garner, Austin G.; Blackman, Benjamin K.; Harmer, Stacey L. (2016-08-04). "Circadian regulation of sunflower heliotropism, floral orientation, and pollinator visits". Science. 353 (6299): 587–590. Bibcode:2016Sci...353..587A. doi:10.1126/science.aaf9793. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 27493185.
  14. ^ "How Sunflowers Move to Follow the Sun". UC Berkeley Rausser College of Natural Resources. Retrieved 2020-05-01.
  15. ^ Heiser, C.B. The Sunflower. University of Oklahoma Press. 1981.
  16. ^ Ben Sparks. "Geogebra: Sunflowers are irrationally pretty".
  17. ^ Mason, Chase M.; Patel, Hiral S.; Davis, Kaleigh E.; Donovan, Lisa A. (2017). "Beyond pollinators: evolution of floral architecture with environment across the wild sunflowers (Helianthus, Asteraceae)". Plant Ecology and Evolution. 150 (2): 139–150. doi:10.5091/plecevo.2017.1321. ISSN 2032-3913. JSTOR 44945441.icon of an open green padlock
  18. ^ a b Berglund, Duane. "Sunflower Production". ag,ndsu. NDSU Extension Service and N.D. Agricultural Experiment Station. Retrieved Feb 7, 2019.
  19. ^ Jennifer Hassan (2 March 2022). "The sunflower, Ukraine's national flower, is becoming a global symbol of solidarity". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  20. ^ "Production of sunflower seeds in 2020, Crops/Regions/World list/Production Quantity (pick lists)". UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT). 2022. Retrieved 13 March 2022.
  21. ^ Spinelli, D; Bardi, L; Fierro, A; Jez, S; Basosi, R (2017). "Environmental analysis of sunflower production with different forms of mineral nitrogen fertilizers" (PDF). The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. Journal of Environmental Management. 22 (4): 492–501. doi:10.1007/s11367-016-1089-6. PMID 23974447. S2CID 112613303.
  22. ^ Castro, C.; Leite, Regina (2018). "Main aspects of sunflower production in Brazil" (PDF). Ocl. 25: D104. doi:10.1051/ocl/2017056. ProQuest 2036361008.
  23. ^ Mastuura, M. I. S. F.; Dias, F. R. T.; Picoli, J. F.; Lucas, K. R. G.; Castro, C.; Hirakuri, M. H. (2017). "Life-cycle assessment of the soybean-sunflower production system in the Brazilian Cerrado" (PDF). The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. 22 (4): 492–501. doi:10.1007/s11367-016-1089-6. S2CID 112613303.
  24. ^ a b Jones, Gregory A.; Gillett, Jennifer L. (March 2005). "Intercropping with Sunflowers to Attract Beneficial Insects in Organic Agriculture". Florida Entomologist. 88 (1): 91–96. doi:10.1653/0015-4040(2005)088[0091:IWSTAB]2.0.CO;2. ISSN 0015-4040.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h Mason, Chase M.; Patel, Hiral S.; Davis, Kaleigh E.; Donovan, Lisa A. (2017-07-10). "Beyond pollinators: evolution of floral architecture with environment across the wild sunflowers (Helianthus, Asteraceae)". Plant Ecology and Evolution. 150 (2): 139–150. doi:10.5091/plecevo.2017.1321.
  26. ^ "Abiotic & Biotic Factors in Ecosystems". Sciencing. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  27. ^ a b "Helianthus". The Plant List. Missouri Botanical Garden. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.((cite web)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  28. ^ "Helianthus". County-level distribution maps from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2014.