Sunflower Is Not a Flower
The question of whether the sunflower is a flower or not is quite puzzling, especially for someone who has always been thinking it’s a flower. Looking at a sunflower, with its brightly colored corollas, radiance in the sun, ticks every box that labels a plant a flower. This type of plant is ubiquitous and has higher rates of surviving in poor soils than most plants do. Some are cultivated as ornamental plants, enhancing the looks of a surrounding, while the majority are cultivated for food processing or herbs.
Sunflower is a giant stalk plant with a head full of yellow petals that are grown for various purposes. They are found in plantations where they are cultivated for their seeds, which when mature fall off from the sunflower’s head. The seeds are used as herbs, raw material for natural oils, or crushed, and added as supplements for animal feeds. Sunflower got its name from its peculiar behavior of turning its head towards the sun. This occurrence was first noticed by the Greeks, who had largely cultivated it for its natural oil. Its color yellow, its roundness, and larger peripheral corollas give it a striking resemblance to the sun.
With normal flowers, such as roses, a larger part of its structure comprises petals that surround seed-bearing organs. The petals have to possess colors that are conspicuous to attract insects for pollination. They put forward attractants like nectar which contribute to the sweet-smelling aromas for a faster invitation of bees. Sunflower has a receptacle, a brown organ shaped like a disk, that anchors thousands of florets. These florets are small flowers attached to the disk, and each produces a seed. This brings in a major difference that separates a sunflower from flowers; flowers don’t have florets on stalks, the flowers come in singular forms.
To put it in a simpler context, a sunflower is a composite of flowers, translating to a head that comprises thousands of small flowers. As a sunflower age, its stalk droops, releasing thousands of seeds that if they fall on fertile soil, give rise to seedlings. The sunflower belongs to the same family as the dandelion, a notorious weed that is hard to get rid of. A single dandelion when not uprooted in time will give rise to hundreds of other dandelions in no time. This ability to host thousands of florets on their heads has made sunflowers and their relatives the most distributed species.
In a normal flower, its receptacles support a single flower that houses the reproductive systems. The male parts are also called anthers in science, maybe inside the flower or hang outside it depending on how the flower reproduces. The sunflower’s receptacle is flat, giving its head the shape of the sun. On the receptacle, thousands of florets are orderly arranged with newer ones found in the middle. As you progress towards its outer rim, older ones appear and are the first ones to shed seed. After its stalk has drooped, its head turns from yellow to brown, to dark brown implying the small flowers have completely fallen off.
The large corollas that surround the sunflower’s head are known as ray petals. They are distinct from a floret but bear the same color. These corollas give the sunflower its flowery look as they resemble petals from other flowers, like roses. When mature, they give off sterile seeds that won’t be able to germinate, only seeds from a floret give rise to seedlings. Their major role is to give the sunflower its conspicuous look, which acts as an attractant for insect pollinators. Corollas from a flower change as their parental plants begin fruition.
Heads of sunflowers grow on single unbranched stems that sometimes reach lengths of three to 10 feet. They’re different sunflowers, some are dwarfs while some can tower heights exceeding 15 feet. Having a single flower head increases their survival by making them not compete for sunlight. Flowers emerge at the ends of stalks that are connected to a branched stem, which makes the main plant. Unlike a sunflower, a single plant can have multiple heads of flowers at a go. Therefore, a sunflower is not a flower but a composite of flowers. It should not be a contentious subject, but one that separates sunflower from the generic word flower.