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cut flower of the month
(printable PDF)
sunflower

 

BOTANICAL NAME
Helianthus annuus

(hee-lee-AN-thus AN-yoo-us)

COMMON NAMES
Sunflower, Common sunflower, Mirasol, Marigold of Peru


DESCRIPTION
Sunflowers have nodding daisylike blossoms, 2 to 10 or more inches in diameter. The blooms of most cut-flower varieties average about 6 inches across while miniature and branched varieties range from 2 to 4 inches.
     The flower heads are made up of “petals” (ray florets) surrounding central disks that comprise hundreds of tiny yellow, brown, green or deep purple flowers (disk florets). Some varieties (e.g., ‘Teddy Bear’) have more ray flowers and appear to not have any disk florets. Ray-floret length and disk diameter also vary among cultivars.
     Sunflowers typically have a single bloom per stem, but they also can be branched, with several smaller blossoms per stem (e.g., ‘Sonja’). Stem lengths generally range from 2 to 5 feet.



COLORS
More than 60 varieties of sunflowers are available today as cut flowers. Natural hues include yellows, from pale lemon yellow to bright golden yellow; bronze; brown; reddish-brown; orange; cream/tan; and bicolors. Stem-dyed sunflowers (red, orange and green) also are available.



VASE LIFE
Sunflowers offer five to 14 days of vase life, depending on variety, environmental conditions and care.



AVAILABILITY
Available year-round, although production peaks from June through October. Some varieties, especially novelties, are available only during the peak months.


vase-life extenders
PREPARATION
Remove sunflowers from shipping boxes immediately upon their arrival at your facility (they are highly susceptible to water stress). If flowers cannot be attended to immediately, place shipping boxes into a floral refrigerator.
    
Remove any packaging and stem bindings as well as any leaves that would be under water in storage containers. Next, rinse stems under tepid running water (sunflowers are often field grown and have “hairy” stems, so they capture debris that can contaminate vase solutions).


HYDRATION AND NUTRITION

Recut stems, on an angle, with a clean, sharp blade, removing at least 1 inch of stem. Immediately dip or place stem ends into a hydration solution to help the flowers take up water more quickly (particularly important with sunflowers), then place them into clean, disinfected containers half filled with properly proportioned flower-food solution or holding solution (low-nutrient flower-food solution).

           
Current research indicates that these flowers do not benefit nutritionally from flower food, but flower food should be used because the bactericide helps control the growth of microbes in containers, which helps prevent stem blockage and premature wilting.



REFRIGERATION
After processing, place sunflowers into a floral cooler at 33 F to 35 F, and allow them to hydrate for at least two hours before using or selling.

ETHYLENE SENSITIVITY

Some cultivars of sunflowers are sensitive to ethylene gas, which can cause the ray florets (“petals”) to drop; however, many varieties are not affected. To be safe, make sure your purchases are treated with an ethylene inhibitor at the grower or during transportation, and keep them away from sources of ethylene in your facility, especially fresh fruit and other produce.

 

CARE EXTRA
Recut stems, wash containers and change flower-food solution every other day to prevent bacteria buildup and keep nutrient solution flowing up the stems.
    
Sunflowers are somewhat geotropic (affected by gravity), so store them as vertical as possible, particularly at room temperatures, so their heads won’t nod even more.


CONSUMER ACTION
Advise consumers to recut the stems and change the vase solution every other day.

 



purchasing checklist

BLOOMS
Look for fully open blooms, but watch that the centers (disk flowers) are not showing any pollen.

LEAVES
Check for yellow, wilted, dried out or otherwise aging leaves. Leaf health is a critical indicator of sunflower longevity—more so than bloom quality.

STEMS
Examine stems for evidence of rot, slime or bruises.

 
fun facts

WHAT’S IN A NAME
The genus name Helianthus is derived from the Greek “helios”, meaning sun, and “anthos”, meaning flower, reflecting these flowers’ heliotropic nature of turning toward and following the sun. The specific epithet “annuus” means annual, referring to the plant’s one-year life cycle.

FAMILY MATTERS

Helianthus
is a member of the huge Asteraceae/Compositae family. A few of its many close relatives are chrysanthemums, Gerberas, Dahlias, Zinnias, Asters, Cosmos, marigolds, black-eyed Susans, bachelor’s buttons and strawflowers.

TOP CROP

Sunflowers are one of only four major crops of global importance that are native to the United States (blueberries, cranberries and pecans are the other three). Several million acres of land are devoted to the production of ornamental, oil-seed and food-producing crops.

HOME SWEET HOME

Sunflowers are native to the plains of North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico, as well as to portions of South America.

FRESH TO DRY
Sunflowers will dry nicely standing in a vase. To dry them so their heads face upward, hang them upside down in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area, or suspend the flower stems through chicken wire or cardboard collars. Sunflowers also can be freeze-dried. To create a distinctive dried botanical material, remove the ray florets (“petals”), after they have faded, from the disk, and allow the disk to dry.

 

 



To view 20 additional sunflower varieties, please download the pdf.

(printable PDF)
If you have trouble viewing these PDF (portable document format) files, download a copy of the free Adobe Reader.

Some information provided by:
Botanica, by R.J. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Chain of Life Network® , www.chainoflife.org
Cut Flowers of the World
  by Johannes Maree and Ben-Erik Van Wyk
Hortus Third
  by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Ethel Zoe Bailey
SAF Flower & Plant Care
  by Terrill A. Nell, Ph.D., and Michael S. Reid, Ph.D.