Garden Sunflowers - Ode to Joy
Sunflowers are an asset
Besides their beauty and grace, sunflowers are an excellent food source for many organisms. Humans use sunflowers as a source for oil and those awesome seeds. Sunflowers are an important source of seeds for birds. Sunflowers are in the taxonomic order of Asteraceae (aster ace ee aye.) this is a broad order of plants and contains many flowers that you may not consider to be sunflowers. One such cousin that you probably are familiar with is the dandelion. Beauty, increased yield, and shade is just a few of the things that sunflowers give. Have you considered growing sunflowers in your garden?
Garden Benefits of Sunflowers
Besides their charm, sunflowers offer a couple of benefits to gardeners. One of the best gifts that the sunflowers bring is shade. A clump of sunflowers can offer other vegetables shade when it is too hot. Planting sunflowers can help save vegetables from sunburning. Another role that sunflowers play is a wind break. Sunflowers are sturdy and can tolerate wind, especially if you stake them. The third gift that sunflowers add to your garden is that they attract pollinators like crazy. Bees, pollinating beetles and butterflies love sunflowers. The benefit to gardeners is that once you attract pollinators they take advantage of all the pollinating available. More pollination means a better crop yield from your garden.
Flower types for Sunflowers
Asteraceae - The botany excursion
The first thing to realize about sunflowers is that they are not a single flower. They are dozens and dozens of flowers that are perched on each sunflower head. The inflorescence of a sunflower is called the head. There are five types of sunflower heads. What you see here is a radiate head. This is a flower that on the outer edges have ray flowers and in the center are disc flowers.
Flower Types: (these can all be present on one sunflower head)
- Ray flowers are sterile. They play the role of attracting pollinators.
- Ligulate flowers can also have a long outer portion like ray flowers, but their corolla is 5-lobed. (1.)
- Disc flowers are without the long outer blade (ligule) that the ray and ligulate flowers have.
Sunflower and Meloid beetle
Meloidae sp beetles
Sunflowers are host to many pollinators. The brown beetle you see to the right is a Meloid sp. These have a common name as a blister beetle. These are cool beetles, but you never want one on you. They have a chemical in them that will cause blisters to form on your skin. Unless you squish them, they are fairly harmless. As a larvae, they predate bees. They act as a natural balance to control bee populations. In the light of all the stuff you hear about colony collapse and the extinction of bees, you have to realize that this relationship has been going on for probably 300 million years. Natural predation is needed. It helps to maintain healthy populations. When you have Meloid beetles in your garden, you have a healthy population of bees. There are a lot more species of bee than just honey bees. Some are displayed here in the photos of this hub.
Meloid beetles eat flowers. In my garden, I am okay with this. The flowers I plant are to attract pollinators. I am happy to share with the insects if they pollinate the vegetables for free. Most insects have a beneficial role in the garden. You just have to take the time to understand what they are doing.
Growing sunflowers is fairly easy. The seeds are planted about 1 inch deep and 5 or so inches apart. A good tip when planting seeds is to water them every day. Seeds that are germinating should never dry out. Sunflowers love the hot days of summer, and they can be used as drought tolerant plants.
Sunflowers make excellent cut flowers too. They last about a week in a vase. The trick is to get them in water as soon as possible once you cut them. A few plants will produce a lot of blooms, and that is great for the garden and for cut flowers. If you are interested in growing sunflowers for the seeds, then try the Mammoth variety. These are huge heads with lots of commercial grade seeds.
Sunflowers for all year
Cooking with Sunflower oil
The National Sunflower Association has tons of recipes that use sunflower seeds and oil.
You can enjoy recipes such as:
For instructions on how to roast sunflower seed in the Microwave.
Sunflower seeds are used in a lot of dishes. Sunflower oil is also easy to use and can be mixed with other ingredients such as herbs to bring out a wholesome flavor.
Sunflower oil is a polyunsaturated fat. It is rich in Omega 6 fatty acids. Like everything, it is wise not over indulge in any cooking oil. There is a fine line between eating healthy and consuming so much of something that it become unhealthy.
Some oils help your body to absorb certain vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. The oil in food helps your body to utilize these vitamins quicker (3.)
Cup of Joy
Sunflowers as Natural Bird Feeders
In the parts of the garden where we are not planting a winter crop, we leave the sunflowers. They reseed themselves, and the migratory and native birds love them. By spring, they are picked clean. You can also pick the heads and hand them on a dull hook. The birds will find them. It is a good way to keep birds around your garden.