What do you think of when you hear the word Helianthus? Perhaps you never heard it before. Am I describing an ancient Greek poet? Perhaps a spell from the Harry Potter series?

You may know the helianthus by it’s more common name, the “sunflower.”

Ah yes, the sunflower, a flower so recognizable it is most likely the flower you think of when you hear the word “flower,” and so beautiful that it earned itself a ballad by Neil Diamond.

sunflowers, H. anthus
H. annus, the sunflower

Helianthus is a reference to the genus that the sunflower belongs to, a genus that has about 70 species underneath it. The sunflower itself is usually a reference to the Helianthus annuus, but there’s also the Jerusalem artichoke, also known as sunroot or earth apple, which you would likely see if you travel up to their native home up in the Great Lakes.

Sunflowers are named for their beautiful solar appearance, but that is not the only connection to that big burning ball of gas in the sky. Sunflowers, as expected, grow towards the sun. The brown in the center hold the sunflower seeds, which are edible and can pick up at most groceries and convenience stores.

Sunflowers also come in several different sizes ranging from petite, to fancy select, to extra. Again, those are sizes for sunflowers, and not for a Starbucks order.

The Helianthus are a member of the daisy family, or Asteraceae, and primarily grow in North America, though there are three species in South America. The earliest domestication of the helianthus dates back to 2100 BCE, most likely by the Olmecs in Central America.

The H. annus are known as sunflowers for what may seem to be obvious reasons. Their bright orange and yellow pedals look like the rays of a sun, and, much like the sun, are quite well-known to brighten any room and any mood. As expected with a flower named after the Sun, it grows in the summer up into early fall, with it’s growth spurt usually occurring around July or August.

Another type of sunflower is the whorled sunflower, helianthus verticillatus, which was placed on the Endangered Species List in 2014. That’s right, flowers can be endangered too, so enjoy them!

Several helianthus species can be grown in gardens, but be warned, as they can grow rapidly and aggressively. If that’s too much for you, feel free to stop down to SuEllen’s Floral Company, where we have already done the work to grow and cultivate all kinds of flowers just for you!


  1. Sunflowers are very thirsty and drink water very fast. Be sure to check the water line in your vase regularly.
  2. Change the water in your vase everyday, at most every other day. When you change the water, recut the ends, and add flower food (Florilife) right after changing.
  3. A few droplets of bleach in the water will help keep your sunflowers fresh and bacteria-free.
  4. If taken care of correctly, your sunflowers should last for 5-10 days.

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