I started growing sunflowers to provide food to my honey bees, because it is proven that bees are attracted to white and yellow flowers; but later, my bees decided to ignore my beautiful yellowish flowers, and run to my neighbors equally beautiful sunflower plants, to bring nectar to their beehives, and later be converted in delicious honey.
Although my bees didn’t like the sunflowers, I found out they were very beneficial to my garden and environment, and decided not only to keep them, but increase the plot size in the garden to plant more sunflowers. Growing sunflowers has many benefits, besides their beautiful flowers and healthy edible seeds, they also bring a variety of birds that fly continuously on the garden, attract bees and other pollinators, and improve the soil mineral composition.
The botanical name for sunflowers is helianthus – ‘Helia’ meaning sun and ‘Anthus’ for flower. Sunflowers are called ‘tournesol’ in French (meaning ‘turns with the sun’). Helianthus is a genus of plants including approximately 70 species, of which three species are native of South America, and the rest are native to North America and Central America.
The main characteristic of sunflowers are their bright colored heads, being yellow, orange, red, or striped the most popular, and yellow the most common color. They also come in different head sizes and heights, and the main advantage of growing sunflowers, is that they are easy to grow and require minimum maintenance.
Benefits of growing sunflowers:
- Attract pollinators. Sunflowers are a permanent source of nectar and pollen for honeybees, bumblebees, and other important pollinators, that can improve your garden or farm harvest.
- Companion plant. Sunflowers are great companion plants when they grow closer to melons, sweetcorn, cucumbers, squash, and zucchini, but not close to potatoes or beans, as sunflowers emit toxins that can affect these crops.
- Soil Conditioner. When the sunflowers’ deep root system is allowed to die in place, it helps boosting the organic content and water holding capacity of the soil, which makes it more drought-tolerant.
- Attract birds. Sunflowers are great bird attractors, which will manage the colonies of insects (good and bad), keeping a perfect balance of both in your garden.
- Soil detoxifier. Sunflowers absorb the toxic heavy metal contaminants and poisonous chemicals (including arsenic, zinc, lead, manganese, and copper) making your soil healthy and natural.
- Edible Seeds. Sunflower seeds come in two colors: Black, which are higher in oil, and often used to make sunflower oil; and grey striped, which are edible (without the hull), to humans, birds, or chickens. They are a good source of vitamin E, magnesium and selenium and a number of other nutrients. Can be eaten as a snack, in pesto instead of nuts, sprinkled on salads or on breakfast. Sunflowers seeds are great germinators to make sprouts.
- Beautiful cut flowers. Sunflowers can be cut to make beautiful flower arrangements, or decorate your favorite indoor spot at home or office.
- Healing effect. Native Americans have been using sunflowers as food and medicine, in everything from flour-based cakes to cooking oil. Sunflowers are a rich source of protein, vitamins and amino acids, and make a healthy snack.