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Northern California Sunflowers

Sunflowers make me smile! They're so cheery, with their bright colors and big heads full of seeds in the making - there's something magical about the way they always turn their faces to the sun, following its path across the sky!

And apparently, I'm not alone. Pretty much everyone recognizes a Helianthus when they see a large flower head atop a tall hairy stem with sticky leaves. Usually the flowers are yellow, but even if you see one that's red or orange or even pink and white, you still know it's a sunflower.

But have you ever tried to grow sunflowers in your garden? It's pretty easy to do! All they need is full sun throughout the day, the right amount of water, and some sort of stabilization against falling over since the stems are relatively thin and the heads are large and heavy.

Voila! You have a beautiful and cheerful addition to your garden!

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Commercial Use of Helianthus

But Helianthus are also grown for commercial purposes.

Who hasn't enjoyed the simple pleasure of lazily cracking open sunflower seeds to get at that tasty little kernel inside?

Or offered them as a treat to your fine feathered friends?

The oil from those same kernels has a variety of uses, from cooking, to lubricating machine parts, to fueling engines, to conditioning your hair.

They're also used in flower arrangements, table centerpieces, and as an inspiration for works of art.

These beauties are native to North America and it's believed that Native Americans first domesticated the wild Helianthus around 1000 B.C. They provided the tribe with food, flour for making breads, and oil for softening leather.

Commercial Helianthus in Northern California's Great Central Valley

Glen County Field by Suzi RosenbergGlen County Field by Suzi Rosenberg

The Great Central Valley of California stretches for almost 500 miles, from Bakersfield in the south to Redding in the north and it's known for its agricultural production. When you think of commercially grown agricultural products in the Central Valley, you probably think of nut and fruit trees, cotton, rice, grapes, maybe tomatoes.

Helianthus do not usually jump to mind!

But according to the National Sunflower Association, "More than 90 percent of the hybrid sunflower seed planted each year by this nation's commercial sunflower producers is grown in the Sacramento Valley, as are increasing amounts of hybrid seed destined for foreign producers of sunflower."

Drive along Interstate 5 through the Sacramento Valley and parts north during the month of August and you'll see acre upon acre of olive-yellow heads surrounded by their bright yellow, pointy petals, bobbing atop their lush hunter-green foliage. If you drive by in the morning, you'll notice the Helianthus heads will be facing East, from whence they follow the sun during the day to end up facing West by the time you come back the other way.

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows follow behind you ~
Maori Proverb

Helianthus as Art

According to Mr. Vera-Broadbent's Flickr page, this photo was "Created in SketchBook® Pro v2.0 on iPad." I'm more than willing to take his word for it! (Smiley Face)

These commercially grown Helianthus are obviously different in appearance from the Northern California field shown above - they're another variety that's grown in Ellis County, Texas.

I just loved this shot of a single flower, taken from a completely different angle than you usually see - very unique!

For more photos and photo galleries, see the Related Pages links in the right-hand column.

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