Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Helianthus annuus

Common sunflower

Asteraceae (Aster Family)

Helianthus annuus (Common sunflower)
Marcus, Joseph A.
Common sunflower is a widely branching, stout annual, 1 1/2-8 ft. tall, with coarsely hairy leaves and stems. The terminal flowers heads are large and showy, up to 5 in. across. A tall, coarse leafy plant with a hairy stem commonly branched in the upper half and bearing several or many flower heads, the central maroon disk surrounded by many bright yellow rays. Yellow ray flowers surround brown disk flowers.

The state flower of Kansas. Contrary to common myth, the heads of sunflowers do not follow the sun each day. However, developing flower buds and leaves do exhibit some phototropism. The plant has been cultivated in Central North America since pre-Columbian times; yellow dye obtained from the flowers, and a black or dull blue dye from the seeds, were once important in Native American basketry and weaving. Native Americans also ground the seeds for flour and used its oil for cooking and dressing hair. In the 19th century it was believed that plants growing near a home would protect from malaria. In the United States and Eurasia seeds from cultivated strains are now used for cooking oil and livestock feed. Many variants have been developed, some with one huge head topping a stalk 9-16 ft (3-5 m) tall, others with maroon rays. Prairie Sunflower (H. petiolaris), found throughout the Great Plains and similar to the wild forms of Common Sunflower, has scales on the disk in the center of the head tipped by white hairs, easily visible when the central flowers are spread apart. Developed in a single large head variety by Russians.

Image Gallery:

73 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Annual
Habit: Herb
Size Notes: From 1 1/2 to 8 feet tall.
Leaf: Green
Size Class: 6-12 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Jul , Aug , Sep , Oct


USA: AL , AK , AZ , AR , CA , CO , CT , DE , FL , GA , HI , ID , IL , IN , IA , KS , KY , LA , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , MS , MO , MT , NE , NV , NH , NJ , NM , NY , NC , ND , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , UT , VT , VA , WA , WV , WI , WY , DC
Canada: AB , MB , NT , SK
Native Distribution: Man. & MN to TX & westward; naturalized to the Atlantic
Native Habitat: Dry, open areas; disturbed sites

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Dry, disturbed clays or heavy sands.
Conditions Comments: Common sunflower spreads rapidly by seed, especially in disturbed sites. It has been shown to have an allelopathic effect on other plants. Many subspecies intergrade throught the species range. The cultivated giant sunflower is a member of H. annuus, derived through artificial selection.


Use Wildlife: Sunflowers intermixed with other annuals provide good cover for many species of wildlife. Seeds are sought by many species of wild birds.
Use Food: Sunflower seeds are popular in breads, cereals, salads and many other dishes. Although we usually think of only the seeds as edible, the bright yellow strap-like florets make a colourful salad garnish. (Kershaw)
Use Medicinal: Flower heads with bracts removed boiled to make remedy for pulmonary troubles. Poultice of flowers used for burns. (Kindscher) Crushed root applied as a mash to draw blister. (Weiner) Roots chewed and applied to swollen area of rattlesnake bites after venom was sucked out. (Steiner) American Indians used flower tea for lung ailments, malaria. Leaf tea taken for high fevers; astringent poultice on snake bites and spider bites. Seeds and leaves said to be diuretic, expectorant.
Use Other: In the 19th century it was believed that plants growing near a home would protect from malaria. (Niering)

Recent uses include making silage from the plant and extracting the oil to make soap. (Niering)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds

Last Update: 2016-06-21