Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Helianthus annuus - Common Sunflower

Family: Asteraceae (Aster family) [E-flora]


"General: Annual herb from a fibrous root; stems erect, simple or branched above, rough stiff-hairy, 0.4-2 m tall. Leaves: Basal leaves lacking; lower leaves opposite, often heart-shaped; middle and upper leaves alternate, stalked, toothed, egg-shaped or wider, rough stiff-hairy. Flowers: Heads with ray and disk flowers, terminal; involucres 10-12 mm tall; involucral bracts graduated, egg-shaped to more oblong, with long-pointed tips, stiff-hairy with fringed margins; ray flowers yellow, up to 3 cm long; disk flowers numerous, reddish-purple, rarely yellow; receptacles flat, over 2 cm wide; Fruits: Achene compressed, glabrous or obscurely hairy, over 4 mm long; pappus of 2 firm, readily deciduous bristles with enlarged, thin, papery bases." [IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat/Range: "This, the state flower of Kansas, is apparently native from Minnesota to Idaho, south to Texas and California, extending into Mexico. It is said to be also a native of South America. It has long been cultivated, and as a garden plant has flower heads nearly a foot in diameter. It has escaped from cultivation about our eastern cities, where it quickly deteriorates into the wild form." [EWP] " Moist to dry waste places and disturbed areas in the steppe zone; rare in SC BC; probably introduced from the W U.S." [IFBC-E-flora]

Status: Exotic [PFAF]


"The growing plant can accumulate nitrates, especially when fed on artificial fertilizers[76]. The pollen or plant extracts may cause allergic reactions[222]." [PFAF]

Edible Uses

Other Uses

"To most of us, indeed, the Wild Sunflower is a plant of unsuspected uses: its stalks possess a fibre of some worth and its flowers are good honey producers as well as a basis of a yellow dye said to be fast. [Saunders]

Medicinal Uses


GorseUlex europaeus [DukePhyt]
Alcohol -> Straight-Chain Primary Alcohol CETYL-ALCOHOL Plant (HHB)[Dukephyt]
Alkaloid [Dukephyt]


Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food. Seed (Fresh weight)

560 Calories per 100g Water : 4.8% Protein: 24g; Fat: 47.3g; Carbohydrate: 19.4g; Fibre: 3.8g; Ash: 4g; Minerals - Calcium: 120mg; Phosphorus: 837mg; Iron: 7.1mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 30mg; Potassium: 920mg; Zinc: 0mg; Vitamins - A: 30mg; Thiamine (B1): 1.96mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0.23mg; Niacin: 5.4mg; B6: 0mg; C: 0mg; Reference: [218][PFAF]

"Environmental factors, especially temperature, during the period of achene development and maturation affect both the concentration and composition of oil in sunflower achenes (Seiler 1986). In a previous study, average oil concentration of wild H. annuus did not vary significantly when native populations were grown in a uniform environment (Seiler 1982). Achene oil concentrations for seven of the 22 perennial species grown at a common location were significantly different from achenes collected at the original population locations (Seiler 1985a). In that study, Helianthus tuberosus was one of the species that varied in oil concentration between the original and regenerated populations. Unfortunately, adequate achenes were not available for oil concentration analysis in the populations of H. tuberosus collected in the present study."[Seiler&Brothers]


"Sunflowers can be grown as a spring-sown green manure, they produce a good bulk of material[87]." [PFAF]

"Root secretions from the plant can inhibit the growth of nearby plants[201]." [PFAF]



"Annual or perennial herb (subshrub). Stem: generally erect. Leaf: opposite or alternate, generally reduced distally on stem, often 3-veined from near base, generally ± flat, generally green, generally rough-hairy. Inflorescence: heads radiate, 1 or in cyme-like clusters; involucre bell-shaped to hemispheric; phyllaries in 1–3 generally ± equal series; receptacle flat to rounded, paleate; paleae 0–3-lobed. Ray flower: 10–many, sterile; ray yellow. Disk flower: many; corolla yellow to red or purple, tube short, throat base tapered or often swollen, lobes triangular; style appendages triangular. Fruit: oblanceolate to obovate, ± compressed, sides rounded; pappus generally of 2 deciduous, lanceolate to ovate scales (+ 0–several shorter scales).
53 species: America. (Greek: sun flower) [Schilling 2006 FNANM 21:141–169] Helianthus maximilianii Schrad. a garden plant only." [Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Helianthus annuus - common sunflower [E-flora][TSFTK]
  2. Helianthus tuberosus - Jerusalem artichoke [E-flora]


"Two crop species Helianthus annus and perennial Helianthus tuberosus are used for phytoremediation of industrial polluted sites. The H. annus – sunflower is a common annual crop plant, accumulating big biomass up to 100 tons of fresh matter. It is tolerant to drought, exhibits strong allelopathic activity and high competitiveness against weeds. It is the best species in European conditions for phytoremediation, because of its good uptake of heavy metals including antimony, which during the last few years has become an increasing threat to the environment (Tschan et al. 2008). Helianthus tuberosus is perennial crop which is advantageous in cultivation because of lower cost and the polluted soil is not tilled. Although most of the hyperaccumulators accumulate small biomass, one of the exception is Berkheya coddi (Robinson et al. 2003)." [SoilBio-30]


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