About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sunflower seeds: The favorite seed of backyard birds

Native to Central America, the Sunflower was one of the first plants cultivated by humans for food, medicine, dye, and fiber for clothing and building materials. According to the National Sunflower Association the earliest known domesticated sunflowers north of Mexico were found in Tennessee, and dated to around 2300 BC. Over the generations the flowers were encouraged to produce bigger and bigger seeds.
Outside florets in bloom

In the early 16th century the plants beauty and usefulness was not overlooked by traders who took plants from the New World back to the Old World. In the 18th century Peter the Great of Russia discovered the sunflower in Holland and took seeds back to Russia. By the mid-19th century, sunflower oil was manufactured in Russia on a large and highly lucrative commercial scale.

It is thought that Russian immigrants took these sunflower seeds with them back to the New World and by the 1880s companies were offering the ‘Mammoth Russian’ sunflowers in US and Canadian catalogs.
Black oil sunflower seeds are almost ready

It took awhile for the United States to take full advantage of the sunflower and make it a cash crop. By the 1970’s, new technology and hybridization produced sunflowers with high yields of oil content and a seed easier to hull.

Then demand for the sunflower went to an all time high a couple decades ago when cholesterol-conscience consumers demanded the healthier choice of oil. Sunflower oil is high in the essential vitamin E and low in saturated fat. Food manufacturers started to use sunflower oil in an effort to lower the levels of trans fat in mass produced foods.

The bird feeding industry was also growing. One in three Americans feeds the birds and sunflower is the best seed overall for the backyard seed eating birds. As the demand for the seed grows, we are keeping a close eye on the crop reports. Because of the reduction in planted acres, the food industries' high demand, and all the floods, fires, and droughts, next year’s crop yield is questionable.

Fun Sunflower Facts:
Illustration of Vogel's formula  
of the pattern of sunflower florets


-The scientific word for Sunflower is Hellianthus. Derived from helios meaning sun and anthos meaning flower.
-Mature flower heads face east typically and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers exhibit heliotropism (sun turning)
-A model for the pattern of florets in the head of a sunflower was proposed by H. Vogel in 1979
-For 2011/12 Russia and Ukraine are the largest producers of sunflowers
-Sunflowers can be used to extract toxic ingredients from soil and were used to remove cesium-137 and strontium-90 from a nearby pond after the Chernobyl disaster, and a similar campaign was mounted in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
-A sunflower grown in the Netherlands holds the record for being the tallest sunflower in the world. It measured 25 feet, 5.4 inches.
-The largest sunflower head was grown in Canada and measured 32-1/2 inches across its widest point.
-The most sunflower heads on one sunflower was grown in Michigan and had 837 heads on one plant. (Source: 2004 Guinness World Records)

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