Sunflower, the common name of plants of the genus helianthus, a word of the same meaning. The genus belongs to the composite family, and consists of about 50 species, most of which are North American; they are coarse annual and perennial herbs, with rough stems and foliage, and some species bear tubers; the opposite or alternate leaves have three nerves; the solitary or corymbose heads are margined by conspicuous neutral ray flowers; the involucre imbricated; the persistent chaff of the receptacle embracing the four-sided akenes (popularly seeds), which bear at the top two chaffy and very deciduous scales, with sometimes two or more intermediate ones. In the common sunflower (II annuus), from tropical America, the flat receptacle is 6 in. or more across, margined by conspicuous yellow ray flowers, while the central portion, or disk, is crowded with brownish tubular ones. The idea that the sunflower is so called because it always presents its face to the sun is erroneous; the name is more likely to be due to the resemblance of the flower head to the old pictorial representations of the sun as a disk surrounded by flaming rays.
Few plants are so exhaustive of potash, the constituent in which most soils are deficient, as the sunflower, and its cultivation, sometimes recommended for various uses, would soon render fertile soils unproductive; for this reason it cannot become a profitable crop. It is raised in small quantities occasionally for the seeds (akenes), which make an acceptable variety in the food of poultry, and they are in repute among horsemen as a remedy for heaves, a quart being given daily with the food. Though the seeds yield about 40 per cent, of an oil useful for burning, for soaps, and other purposes, equally good oil may be obtained from plants which do not so exhaust the soil. The abundant pith has been used by French surgeons as a moxa. A so-called double variety, in which the tubular florets of the disk are developed in the same form as those of the ray, is much more showy than the common kind. - The best garden sunflower is the many-flowered (II multiflorus), a perennial, of doubtful nativity, growing 4 to 6 ft. high, and producing late in summer an abundance of flowers, which in the double form have a close resemblance to the flowers of the dahlia.
H. argophyllus of Texas, with hoary white foliage, and H. orgyralis of the far west, with narrow gracefully recurved leaves, are both sometimes cultivated for the peculiarities of their foliage. Numerous species, of interest to the botanist only, are to be found in all parts of the country, especially on the western prairies. The species cultivated for its edible tubers as Jerusalem artichoke (H. tuberosus) is described under Artichoke.
Garden Sunflower (Helianthus multiflorus).
Sunflower, a N. W. county of Mississippi, intersected by the Sunflower river; area, 720 sq. m.; pop. in 1870, 5,015, of whom 3,243 were colored. Since the census a portion has been set off to form Leflore co. The surface is level and swampy, and the soil highly fertile. The chief productions in 1870 were 155,672 bushels of Indian corn, 21,091 of -sweet potatoes, and 7,028 bales of cotton. There were 839 horses, 849 mules and asses, 1,728 milch cows, 3,497 other cattle, 184 sheep, and 7,828 swine. Capital, Johnsonville.