How to grow the world’s tallest Sunflower
Words by Ben Earl
Illustrations by Camilla Perkins
Latin name: Helianthus annuus
Nickname: Likes to go by its nickname ‘Sunflower’
Native to: America
Spotted in: Yayoi Kusama’s Flower Obsession Sunflower performance (2000)
Life cycle: Some varieties are perennial others are annual
Soil: Well-drained, slightly acidic soil
Special feature: Their heliotropic nature, long stems and huge flower heads made up of smaller florets
Plant your seeds in late spring
If you want your sunflowers to bloom next summer, it’s best to plant your seeds in late spring. The seeds are best planted straight into the soil outside but can be cultivated indoors until they begin to sprout. The flowers will be in full bloom in late summer and last for about two weeks. If you want to experience a continuous sunny bloom then plant a new row of seeds each week.
Sunflowers follow the sun
In the earliest cultures, Mayan, Inca and Aztec, the sunflower represented a symbol of the sun, its genus name even refers to the Greek sun god, Helios. One of the coolest things about sunflowers is that their flower heads turn with the movement of the sun, a plant motion known as heliotropism. When sunflowers are still young you’ll be able to watch them trace the sun across the sky, once fully matured they’ll stay facing east. Make sure you offer all the sun possible, sunflowers sit happiest in a sun-drenched spot in the garden or a window sill with a lot of light.
They waste no time
Due to their rapid growth in a short period of time, Sunflowers need a lot of nutrients. The soil will be the main source but make sure to give each flower plenty of water. You should keep in mind that the soil should be able to drain easily to avoid drowning the roots. When your flowers reach a good height, protect them from wind damage by tying them to a sturdy support.
A spiralling array of (edible) seeds
The ‘faces’ of each sunflower are actually made up of hundreds of smaller flowers that later mature into seeds, their formations make up beautifully complex spirals which follow the measurements of the Fibonacci Sequence. Seeds are surrounded by their distinct bright yellow flickering petals and a fully blooming head can span up to 60cm. When the seeds change colour from green to yellow, they’re ready to cut and harvest. Store in a dry, cool location until the disk turns dark brown – now you can munch on them, raw or roasted.