The sunflower has a rough, hairy stem, broad, coarsely toothed, rough leaves and circular heads of flowers. The heads consist of 1,000-2,000 individual flowers joined together by a receptacle base.
Sunflower seeds were taken to Europe in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient. Sunflower leaves can be used as a cattle feed, while the stems contain a fibre which may be used in paper production.
Description: What is usually called the "flower" on a mature sunflower is actually a "flower head" (also known as a "composite flower") of numerous florets, (small flowers) crowded together. The outer petal-bearing florets are the sterile ray florets and can be yellow, red, orange, or other colors. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets, which mature into seeds.
The florets within the sunflower's cluster are arranged in a spiral pattern. Generally, each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, 137.5°, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head.
Sunflowers most commonly grow to heights between 1.5 and 3.5 m (5–12 ft). Scientific literature reports that a 12 m (40 ft), traditional, single-head, sunflower plant was grown in Padua in 1567. The same seed lot grew almost 8 m (26 ft) at other times and places, including Madrid. During the 20th century, heights of over 8 m have been achieved in both Netherlands and Ontario, Canada.
History: The sunflower is native to Central America. The evidence thus far is that it was first domesticated in Mesoamerica, present day Mexico, by at least 2600 BC. It may have been domesticated a second time in the middle Mississippi Valley, or been introduced there from Mexico at an early date, as maize was. The earliest known examples of a fully domesticated sunflower north of Mexico have been found in Tennessee, and date to around 2300 BC. Many indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America. Francisco Pizarro was the first European to encounter the sunflower in Tahuantinsuyo, Peru. Gold images of the flower, as well as seeds, were taken back to Spain early in the 16th century. Some researchers argue that the Spaniards tried to suppress cultivation of the sunflower because of its association with solar religion and warfare.
During the 18th century, the use of sunflower oil became very popular in Europe, particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils that was not prohibited during Lent, according to some fasting traditions.