What is the Sunflower Life Cycle?

What are sunflowers?

Renowned for their tall stems and bright golden blossoms, sunflowers are the largest flowering plants known to man. They belong to the colorful Asteraceae, or Daisy family, and are a firm favorite with gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

Native to Mexico and the southern United States, sunflowers have large round faces and vibrant petals. And although we tend to associate sunflowers with the color yellow, they come in many other colors, too, including orange, peach, red, pink, and purple.

Seed to harvest: The stages of the sunflower life cycle

The sunflower life cycle consists of many steps. First, a seed is planted in the soil. Then, after a couple of weeks, a young sunflower’s first green shoots will rise from the ground.

Slowly but surely, the tiny plant will grow leaves, a bud, and eventually – after roughly three months – a golden flower. But that’s not the end of the sunflower’s story, not by a long shot.

Let’s look at the sunflower life cycle in more detail and discover what happens after a sunflower blooms…

  • Seed

One day.

The sunflower life cycle begins with a seed.

  • Germination

One week after planting.

Soon after they’re planted, sunflower seeds absorb moisture through their shells. As they soak up more and more water, their shells begin to crack open, unable to contain the extra moisture. The sunflower’s roots emerge first – their role is to stabilize the plant and absorb vital nutrients from the soil.

  • Seedling

Two to five weeks after planting.

Once the roots have absorbed plenty of water, a tiny shoot will make its way out of the ground. This small plant – known as a “seedling” – comprises a thin stem and two leaves.

During this stage, as the stem grows taller and taller, the plant will produce many more leaves. The fledgling sunflower uses its leaves to absorb sunlight, turning it into food via photosynthesis.

Seedlings are highly vulnerable to environmental factors, such as extreme temperatures (high and low), lack of water, and insects.

  • Bud

Five to 10 weeks after planting.

Also known as the “reproductive phase,” this stage is when a small bud develops at the tip of the stem. At first, the bud will be closed, but over time it will open up to display the bright golden petals within.

Did you know that, during the reproductive phase, sunflowers physically move toward sunlight? As the sun drifts across the sky, sunflowers will change position to ensure they get as much sunlight as possible. This behavior – known as heliotropism – is how sunflowers got their name.

  • Full bloom

10 to 13 weeks after planting.

After two to three months, sunflowers begin to flower. Typically, sunflowers stay in bloom for three weeks, but you might get a whole month if you’re lucky.

At this stage, sunflowers are like a shining beacon for bees, butterflies, beetles, and many other pint-sized pollinators. Attracted by the vibrant petals, these insects drink nectar from the sunflower’s center.

In the process, their furry bodies pick up pollen from the male part of the plant (known as anthers), which they carry to the next plant. There, the bees deposit the pollen onto the female parts of the flower (known as stigma), fertilizing the plant and ensuring that it’ll produce fruit and seeds in the future.

  • Wilt

13 to 15 weeks after planting.

All good things must come to an end. At 13 to 15 weeks, the petals turn from bright yellow to rusty brown, and the head of the sunflower starts to droop.

  • Regeneration, or harvest

15 to 17 weeks after planting.

During the regeneration (or reproduction) stage, the sunflower withers completely, shedding its seeds on the soil below. Some will embed themselves in the ground, some scatter on the breeze, while birds and squirrels will eat others. This process – known as seed dispersal – allows the sunflower life cycle to begin again.

How long does it take for sunflowers to grow?

On average, it takes between 10 and 14 weeks for a sunflower to fully mature. Your sunflower will grow faster if you place it in direct sunlight and water it frequently.

Top tips for growing your sunflowers

Looking to grow your sunflowers this summer? Then you may be interested in these gardening hints and tricks. Follow these five steps, and come August, your garden will be a shining sea of golden blooms.

  • Water regularly. Ensure you water your sunflowers often, especially in the early stages of growth. A good time to water your plants is in the morning before the sun gets too hot.
  • Give your sunflowers space. A sunflower’s roots extend deep beneath the ground, sometimes as far as 1.5 feet. So, it’s essential to ensure they have plenty of room to grow. If they don’t have the space to develop a robust root system, they won’t be able to support their weight.
  • Support them. When your sunflowers reach around three feet tall, prop them up with supporting stakes. For these, you can use any long, thin piece of wood you have lying around. This will help your plants grow strong and tall.
  • Fend off pests. Many insects and birds are attracted to the tasty seeds in the center of blooming sunflowers. Try trimming the leaves nearest to the flower to stop them from damaging your plants. This will make it harder for insects to reach the flower.
  • Keep on sowing. If you sow a new batch of sunflower seeds every two weeks in the spring, you’ll have a constant supply of blooms until fall.

Sunflower myths

According to Greek mythology, Apollo, the God of the Sun, fell in love with a spirit called Clytie. But following a brief romance, he left her for Leucothea, the Goddess of the Sea. Clytie is said to have been so devastated that she didn’t take her eyes off the horizon for over a week, hoping to catch a glimpse of Apollo in his golden chariot. Finally, having not eaten or slept for nine days, Clytie passed away.

Did you know that the scientific name for sunflower is helianthus, which combines the Ancient Greek words for the sun (helios) and flower (Anthus)?

What do sunflowers symbolize?

Sunflowers are a symbol of loyalty in many cultures. This could be down to the Apollo and Clytie myth in which Clytie refused to give up hope that Apollo would return.

Native Americans associate sunflowers with new life, sustenance, and harvest because they were among the first to realize you could eat and make oil from sunflower seeds. And when sunflowers die in the wild, they provide vital food for insects, birds, and mammals, so they’re nature’s pantry too.

In China, sunflowers represent longevity, good fortune, and spirit.

And sunflowers are closely associated with happiness, joy, friendship, optimism, and positivity worldwide. This makes them an excellent choice for wedding bouquets, gifts, and decorations.

Harvesting seeds at the end of the sunflower life cycle

Sunflowers are the gift that keeps giving. They’re a constant source of anticipation, joy, excitement, happiness, and food from seed to death!

To harvest sunflower seeds, wait until the back of the head turns brown, then cut it off. You can remove the seeds by rubbing your hand over the center of the flower. Once you’ve harvested all the seeds, wash them in cold water, and leave them to dry overnight. The next day, they’ll be ready to eat as they are, but we prefer to roast them.

Baking sunflower seeds give them a more robust, nuttier flavor, which works great in sweet and savory recipes. To roast them, preheat your oven to 300 degrees, lay your seeds on a cookie sheet, and bake for half an hour.

Or, if you’d like to share your sunflower bounty, you can scatter the seeds in your backyard for the birds and squirrels to feast on.

How to preserve sunflowers

If, like Clytie, you can’t face the prospect of saying goodbye to your sunflower, we have a handy tip for you: dry them. By drying your sunflower blooms, you can preserve them in all their glory for years to come. All you have to do is hang your sunflower/s in a dark, dry place for three weeks. Closets, spare rooms, and attics are all great spots. Once the three weeks are up, you’re dried sunflowers will be ready to use as decorations, keepsakes, and gifts.

Ten fun facts about sunflowers

We think it’s time for some fun facts, don’t you? OK, then, let’s dive in!

  1. The world record for the tallest sunflower is held by Hans-Peter Schiffer, a gardener from Karst, Germany. His sensational sunflower measured a whopping 30.1 feet, 10 feet higher than the average American house! The sunflower was so tall that the local fire department had to be called in to measure it.
  2. Sunflowers can contain as many as 2,000 seeds.
  3. The Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has a gigantic sunflower maze in front of its main entrance hall. This bright yellow labyrinth honors Vincent van Gogh’s iconic sunflower paintings and contains roughly 125,000 sunflower plants.
  4. There are 70 different species of sunflowers. However, the United States’ rarest sunflower is “Schweinitz’s sunflower,” a small, elusive plant native to North and South Carolina.
  5. In France, sunflowers are called “tournesol,” which translates to “turns with the sun.”
  6. Don Pettit, a green-thumbed U.S. astronaut, took a handful of sunflower seeds to the International Space Center in 2012.
  7. Believe it or not, some people are terrified of sunflowers. This irrational fear is known as helianthophobia.
  8. Sunflower seeds and oil contain high vitamin D levels, often called the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D is proven to strengthen the immune system, reduce depression, and aid weight loss.
  9. Most people only eat the seeds, but every part of the sunflower is edible, from the stem to the bright yellow petals.
  10. The sunflower has been the state flower of Kansas since 1903.

Why is it important for children to learn about nature?

Whether hunting for bugs in the backyard or planting sunflowers in the school garden, connecting with nature benefits children in so many ways – both physically and emotionally.

Let’s take a look at how nature positively impacts children’s health, development, and well-being:

Spending time in nature is proven to improve children’s concentration and mood.

Studies show that people who spend time outdoors have lower levels of the hormone cortisol, which is heavily linked with anxiety and depression.

Children who regularly play outdoors have greater levels of physical fitness than those who don’t.

Spending time outdoors allows children to learn about various scientific topics, including plant life cycles, photosynthesis, taxonomy, insects and animals, ecology, and weather.

Children who develop a love of science early on are more likely to excel in STEM – a rapidly growing industry – later in life.

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