The sunflower, said the ancient Greeks, is Clyte, a sea nymph who fell in love with the sun, was changed into a sunflower, and forever follows the daily movements of the sun across the sky. The American sunflower, a tall and splendid native plant, does as the Greek sunflower did thousands of years ago, and usually keeps its face turned toward the sun as it moves over the sky.
Helianthus annum L.
The annual sunflower, largest and most useful of its tribe, originally was native west of the Mississippi; much later it was made the state flower of Kansas. But more than four hundred years ago, the western Indian who moved across the Mississippi took sunflower seeds with them. Gradually, through the centuries, the sunflower was planted or escaped from Indian plantings, until it had reached Lake Huron, where Samuel de Champlain found it when he came to the American wilderness around the Great Lakes. He found that the Indians made a textile fiber from the stems, the leaves were used for horse fodder, the seeds for food and for oil, and from the flowers a yellow dye was made. The sunflower for many years has been one of the most useful of the plants known to the Indians and remains useful in today's economy.
In their flower heads, the sunflowers possess a tremendously complicated seed-producing mechanism. The so-called petals are yellow rays. The sticky brown, resinous, scented center or disk is composed of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of complete flowers which produce yellow pollen and erect pistils which eventually fall away and reveal a bending head of ripe, fat-filled, vitamin-rich sunflower seeds, food for Indian, cardinal, or barnyard fowl.