A Floral Riddle: What flower originated in North America, was domesticated by American Indians, commercialized by Russians, and then finally returned to North America for hybridization and commercial farming over 100 years ago?
If you guessed Sunflower you are correct (and observant!). And you get bonus points if you guessed Helianthus (From the Greek: Hēlios, "sun" and anthos, "flower").
Sunflower: World Traveler
As mentioned in our riddle, the sunflower’s wild ancestor is native to North America, and it was the American Indians who first domesticated it into a single-headed plant in order to harvest the seeds. However, they also saw the value and beauty in the plant for non-food uses as well. According to The American Society of Agronomy, they used all parts of the versatile plant to make dye for textiles, oil for skin and hair, and they even used the sturdy, dried stalk as building material. The plant itself, along with its seeds, was widely used in ceremonies.
Eventually explorers took this exotic flora back to Europe, where it was adopted and commercialized in Russia. Why? It just so happened that sunflower oil was one of the few fats allowed to be consumed by Orthodox Russians during Lent, and its demand shot up! Only in the last 150 years has the sunflower returned to North America as a cultivated crop, and it was here that hybridization techniques were utilized to give us the beloved ornamental sunflower that we offer today.
Chasing the Sun
When farming sunflowers, one needs to be cognizant of one thing--sunflowers love sun. And lots of it. In fact, they love the sun so much that their heads will follow its path as it passes across the sky. These large, vibrant blooms also like consistency and hate stress, so an environment of warm, long days and comfortable nights will give sunflowers the weather conditions that keeps them happily reaching for the sky. Sunflowers are typically planted in field rows, where they have room to stretch and soak up as much sun as possible.
The first thing a sunflower forms atop its stalk is its center. From there, it begins building its petals, and as soon as one petal begins to raise its vibrant head, it signals that the sunflower is ready to be picked.
After picking, the freshly cut blooms should be hydrated and then shipped while they're still closed, in order to prevents possible damage. Once they arrive to their destination, the first drink of water will help them open up and flatten out into their iconicshape. They can be shipped wet or dry, with or without foliage, which makes it easy for designers to have their aesthetic pick of the litter.
In addition to the classic yellow-petal-black-eye sunflower, there are several specialty sunflowers available for seasonal spice and color variety, such as Teddy Bear Sunflowers (super soft, multi-layered petals), mahogany-rimmed sunflowers, and red sunflowers.
So whether you desire the classic black-eye sunflower, its red-hued sister, or teddy bear cousin you can let the sunshine in, no matter where you are.