COMPOSITE FAMILY - Compositae: Tall or Giant Sunflower

Helianthus giganteus

Flower-heads--Several, on long, rough-hairy peduncles; 1-1/2 to 2-1/4 in. broad; 10 to 20 pale yellow neutral rays around a yellowish disk whose florets are perfect, fertile. Stem: 3 to 12 ft. tall, bristly-hairy, usually branching above, often reddish; from a perennial, fleshy root. Leaves: Rough, firm, lance-shaped, saw-toothed, sessile.

Preferred Habitat--Low ground, wet meadows, swamps.

Flowering Season--August-October.

Distribution--Maine to Nebraska and the Northwest Territory, south to the Gulf of Mexico.

To how many sun-shaped golden disks with outflashing rays might not the generic name of this clan (helios = the sun, anthos = a flower) be as fittingly applied: from midsummer till frost the earth seems given up to floral counterparts of his worshipful majesty. If, as we are told, one ninth of all flowering plants in the world belong to the composite order, of which more than sixteen hundred species are found in North America north of Mexico, surely more than half this number are made up after the daisy pattern, the most successful arrangement known, and the majority of these are wholly or partly yellow. Most conspicuous of the horde are the sunflowers, albeit they never reach in the wild state the gigantic dimensions and weight that cultivated, dark-brown centred varieties produced from the common sunflower have attained. For many years the origin of the latter flower, which suddenly shone forth in European gardens with unwonted splendor, was in doubt. Only lately it was learned that when Champlain and Segur visited the Indians on Lake Huron's eastern shores about three centuries ago, they saw them cultivating this plant, which must have been brought by them from its native prairies beyond the Mississippi---a plant whose stalks furnished them with a textile fibre, its leaves fodder, its flowers a yellow dye, and its seeds, most valuable of all, food and hair-oil! Early settlers in Canada were not slow in sending home to Europe so decorative and useful an acquisition. Swine, poultry, and parrots were fed on its rich seeds. Its flowers, even under Indian cultivation, had already reached abnormal size. Of the sixty varied and interesting species of wild sunflowers known to scientists, all are North American.

Moore's pretty statement,

  "As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
  The same look which she turn'd when he rose,"

lacks only truth to make it fact. The flower does not travel daily on its stalk from east to west. Often the top of the stem turns sharply toward the light to give the leaves better exposure, but the presence or absence of a terminal flower affects its action not at all.