Kansas State Flower - Sunflower

Sunflowers range from small to giant in size.

Sunflowers range from small to giant in size.

The sunflower's distinctive yellow petals, dark center and large size make it an instantly recognizable part of the Kansas landscape. The sunflower grows wild throughout the state of Kansas, often creating weed problems. While sunflowers are a pretty addition to a garden or table, the state flower of Kansas is also a valuable agricultural crop, grown for both its seeds and oil.

The Flower

The sunflower is an annual plant with broad leaves and a single, erect stem. Young plants have a round, green stem. The stem becomes woody with age. The head of the sunflower is not a single flower, but many small flowers clustered to form what looks like a single blossom. Sunflowers are phototropic, with young sunflowers following the path of the sun.

Growing Sunflowers

Sunflowers will grow in many semi-arid regions, including the plains of the United States. While temperatures from 70 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for growth, sunflowers will tolerate a wide range of temperatures. Sunflowers are moderately drought-tolerant. Fungi and insects can damage sunflower crops, while birds may eat the seeds and reduce the yield.

Harvesting Sunflowers

Sunflowers grown for the flower industry are harvested much earlier than sunflowers grown for seeds or oil. The sunflower seeds are mature when the back of the head is yellow. The sunflower head needs to dry completely before the seeds can be harvested and processed into sunflower oil, roasted and salted to sell as sunflower seeds, or shelled and made into sunflower butter.

Nutrition

Sunflower seeds and oil provide high-quality unsaturated fat. Sunflower oil is 90 percent unsaturated fat, including both oleic and linoleic fatty acids. The oil has a light color and flavor, making it suitable for salads, cooking and frying. Sunflower seeds have 160 calories per ounce and are typically eaten as a snack. You can also sprinkle sunflower kernels on salads or add them to bread.

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