A Brief History of Sunflowers
by Philip Voice
by Philip Voice

After starting my garden maintenance business in 1984 and running it for 21 years I decided I needed a change of direction (probably a mid life crisis, no seriously! :-0)
Together with my family, wife Donna, Son Henry and Daughter Fleur (not forgetting Hector the Black Labrador) I moved to France in search of an old farmhouse to renovate.
In the interim period whilst waiting for the contract to go through I started writing a blog. Initially just to keep a diary for family and friends to keep up with our progress if they wished but then it occurred to me that there isn't a real time watcher of the landscape industry in the UK.
I didn't want to waste my experience and experiences so I decided I could put all of this Juice to good use so I started Landscape Juice.
If you have an interesting story, snippet of want to promote your self or your business then give me a shout.

Philip Voice appointed marketing manager for Weedfree

October 14, 2007

I am growing 5 hectares of Sunflowers this year and with the sun out this morning it is a wonderful sight. But what are the origins of this magnificent flower and what uses does it have?

The Sunflower is a native of North America where it grew wild on the Western plains and is thought do date back over 3000BC after being found and dated at archaeological sites.

The seeds, which pre-date the staple serials would be eaten as they were, as a snack or roasted and ground to provide a flour for making bread or thickening soups or stews. The husks were even boiled to make a drink not dissimilar to coffee.

Widely regarded as symbolic and ornamental it was used by the Aztec's in ceremonies and to adorn their temples.

In the 1500's, Spanish explorers exported the seed to Europe where oil was extracted but it never really gained a foothold, despite being rich in vitamins oil and protein, until Russia began wide scale production in the early late 1800's growing over 2 million acres.

The Russian Orthodox Church banned all foods that contained oil for consumption during lent but allowed Sunflower seeds.

The Russians were thought to have re-introduced Sunflower back into the United States where it use was mainly for animal feed.

The husks and petals were used to make clothing dye and the petals, when mixed with the bright yellow/orange pollen were mixed to make face paints. The stalks are a source of very strong fibre and were used as a building material.

The oil itself has a multitude of uses from cooking, hair, bio-fuel - which burns 75% cleaner than petroleum based diesels, and the treatment of snake bites and warts.

There are a 56 varieties of Sunflowers to be found which can range in height which are a favourite with children and many good competition has been had growing them.

One of the lesser known but quite amazing facts about the Sun flower is an excellent plant at removing toxins from the environment.

After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster when a nuclear reactor exploded and contaminating vast tracts of land and water sources around the site, Sunflowers were used by means of an emerging technology called rhizofiltration.

Sunflowers were grown using hydroponics to create long root systems. The plants were then transferred to huge floating rafts where the long roots would be dangled into the polluted water. There is evidence that using this method, the Sunflower can extract massive quantities of toxins, including metals such as uranium from deep into the water.

It is believed this method accounted for removing 95% of radiation from polluted water after Chernobyl.

The flower head itself is amazing too. If you look closely you will notice that the closely packed seed heads form a spiral. This is indeed the case but what is also amazing is, as with a lot of plants found in nature, the seeds are arranged in the Fibonacci series.

Have you ever wondered why the Sunflower follows the sun? Supposedly, on the shady side of the head is growth hormone which makes the part of the plant which is in the shade grow fast causing the head to be forced towards the sun.

From a personal experience I noticed last year that our Sunflowers faced the rising sun all day and apart from the odd rogue they remained facing an easterly direction until sunset. This particular year, maybe because of the mixed and often wet and stormy conditions the heads faced all directions but 24 hours before the weather changed for the better they all - again apart from the odd rogue - turned to the rising sun.

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