Sunflowers were first recorded in the area that is now South America in 1000 B.C. They were first cultivated for their nutritional and therapeutic values. The seeds were a great food source and the root was used to treat snakebites. Then its image turned to a religious symbol. Aztecs and Incans believed that the sunflower was a representation of the sun and worshipped it. With European exploration, the sunflower and its popularity spread around the world in the 16th century. Today sunflowers are used for their seeds and oils as well as their beauty in floral designs. Sunflower seeds are a popular roasted treat. Certain sunflower oils can be used in food preparations and salads. Other oils have been known to help treat skin conditions.
The sunflower was so named because of its resemblance to the sun as well as its behavior to grow towards the sun due to its great need for sunlight. This behavior is called heliotropism. The sunflower’s leaves will face east in the morning and as the day progresses, it will move until it faces west with the sun setting. Each night the sunflower will reset to its east-facing position. This usually stops once the flower has bloomed. Most people believe that the major bloom is just one big flower, but the head is the host for hundreds of tiny flowers called florets. Sunflowers are related to chrysanthemums, gerberas, calendulas, and dahlias. They can grow up to 15 feet and the bloom can be as big as 15 inches wide.