The native plant of most of North America and the United States is the wild or common sunflower. We have bred large annual garden sunflowers that are cut flowers, seeds, and pure rights.
Wild Sunflower. Image by Amber Avalona from Pixabay
Cultivated sunflowers are loved and prized by all, while their wild ancestors are considered more of a weed. They show up by themselves, and an unplanted plant usually equates to “ weed ” for most people.
The plant is a noxious weed in Iowa. I feel I have a right to be critical of it because I am from Iowa. In Iowa, everything but corn and soybeans are noxious weeds. That is a slight overstatement. They also grow vegetables. I do struggle with noxious weeds.
Is it a good idea to let Wild Sunflowers grow ?
Is it a good idea to let them grow in your garden ? Wild sunflowers will be very persistent if you allow them to grow in a garden that gets continually tilled or dug. Next spring, you might get a whole bed of them. The entire state of Iowa is tilled every year.
Iowa, in a nutshell
If you have a garden full of perennial that does n’t get disturbed, you can be happy to let annual sunflowers make an appearance. They attract many species of birds, who eat their seeds, and their cheery yellow flowers are a welcome treat in the late summer as they tower above the rest of the garden. They will struggle in an undisturbed garden. Enjoy them while they are a natural bird feeders. The more you appreciate them, the more likely they will fade away.
Wild sunflower makes a wonderful free and natural bird feeder.
The seeds of the wild sunflower are very small for us to deal with, as most wild ancestors of seeds tend to be. It was cultivated. The flowers are pretty, but in a more modest way than the cultivated sunflowers. There is more to say about the common sunflower.
There are plant characteristics and uses.
This is an extremely useful and beneficial plant that can take up a lot of space in your garden.
Read more: Vincent van Gogh – Sunflowers
|Variety||This plant has been bred to exhibit many different features from height, to large seeds, to oil production.|
|Common Name||Common sunflower or Wild sunflower|
|Height||1.5 to 8 ft.|
|Bloom Time||July — October|
|USDA Hardiness Zone||2-11|
|Native||Canada, US, Northern Mexico|
|Aggressive behavior||Can be aggressive in disturbed soils|
|Invasive||No, not in its native range|
|Sun Requirements||Full sun|
|Root Structure||Single tap root with smaller secondary roots|
|Edible Leaf/Stalk||Yes: young shoots, stalks raw or cooked, leaves raw or cooked, or tea|
|Edible Seed||Yes: raw, toasted, or pressed for oil|
|Edible Root||Yes: raw, cooked, or tea|
|Edible Flowers||Yes: petals raw or cooked|
|Harvest Time||Growing season for root and greens, fall for seeds|
|Storage time||Raw seeds: 2-3 months at room temperature, 1 year refrigeratedSeeds roasted and in shell: 4-5 months at room temperature, 1 year refrigerated|
|Medicinal||Yes, astringent, diuretic, expectorant|
|Larval Host||Sunflower moth. Considered a pest on cultivated sunflowers, but these are wild plants. Allowing these plants to grow, and then allowing sunflower moths to lay eggs and hatch on your plants will attract parasitic wasps and flies. Up to 50% of these moth larvae will be parasitized. Then those insects will emerge, increase the population of beneficial insects in your area, and go on to parasitize other possible “pests” in your garden.|
|Wildlife Food||Yes, especially pollinators and birds|
|Wildlife Shelter||Yes, especially insects and birds|
|Pest Confusion||No, usually fragrant plants handle this job|
|Fragrance Pleasant to Humans||Flowers not fragrant|
|Deer Resistant||Yes. Deer might eat the young shoots, but they will just sprout with multiple shoots from the severed spot.|
|Beauty (as commonly perceived by a majority of urban folks)||Medium|
|Dye||Black or dark blue from seeds, yellow from flowers|
|Tolerates Juglone||Yes, but they might not get enough sun under the crown of a walnut or pecan tree|
|Allelopathic (stunts growth of some surrounding plants)||Has shown some allelopathic tendencies to some surrounding plants. I have not personally found evidence of this in my garden, but that is merely anecdotal.|
How do you know if you have wild sunflowers ?
When I first started learning about plants, I would find descriptions of plants that made no sense to me and just skip over them. A bunch of subjective adjectives wo n’t help me one bit, they still do n’t make sense to me. I looked at a lot of images. When you are trying to figure out what new plant nature brought into your yard, posts and pages describing said plant as a weed tend to have the least beautiful and most helpful pictures of all. There is a link to a University of Missouri page. It has helpful pictures.
Photo of a wild sunflower seedling from University of Missouri
If you see little seedlings like this in the spring, you may have received a free gift from nature.
You have to decide if these properties are well-suited for your property. We enjoy the benefits of wild sunflowers in our yard.