The Favorite Flower of the Indians

Kayla Taking Flowers at end of Season to Seed New Sunflower Hedgerow

Kayla Taking Flowers at end of Season to Seed New Sunflower Hedgerow

The sunflowers are blooming in South Texas. Our native variety of sunflower, the silver leaf, grows tall, up to twenty feet in height, with thick trunk-like stems. Sunflowers, with their vibrant yellow blooms, have a long and colorful history in the garden.

Native American Indians began to cultivate sunflowers 5,000 years ago. They roasted the oil-rich seeds, ate them raw, or pounded them into flour.  Indians used sunflowers as medicine to treat a long list of ailments, and they made a purple dye from the seeds to paint their skin.

Indians also planted sunflowers as living fences to protect their crops. We adopted this method on our farm and planted a hedgerow of sunflowers to shield our crops from the relentless Gulf winds. This living fence now grows so dense that even deer will not try to break though it to sneak into our gardens.

Silver leaf sunflowers are easy to propagate, but you must collect the seeds now, during the fall, from mature flowers. Silver leaf sunflowers are native to South Texas, but they do not grow well outside of our area, and the seeds are difficult to find commercially.

Seed Head from Wild Sunflowers

Seed Head from Wild Sunflowers

But you can easily harvest your own seeds by cutting mature well-seeded flower heads from their stalks. To keep the seeds through the winter, store the flower heads in a zip lock bag in the freezer.

In the spring, plant these frozen flower heads into loosened, well-aerated soil. You don’t need to thin or even water your hardy sunflowers; they will grow perfectly well on their own. You can plant a living fence or a small thicket of flowers, whatever is best-suited to your landscape.

In late fall, when the flowers fade, you can weave the sturdy sunflower stalks into trellises for your winter peas, or burn the stalks to make potassium-rich ash to use as a soil amendment.

Sunflowers attract birds, butterflies, and bees to your landscape. Much of our fall honey in South Texas actually comes from the pollen of sunflowers. And best of all, sunflowers bring their golden blooms in late summer, when there is not much color in the garden.

Silver leaf sunflowers are a useful, beautiful, and age-old companion to your vegetables, and these flowers will happily make themselves at home in your garden.

A Sunflower Hedgerow

A Sunflower Hedgerow

4 responses

  1. We have an old patch of wild sunflowers that for some reason hasn’t returned in a couple of years. I chopped down all of the stalks and hand mulched them by pounding with a mallet and used that material to fill the bottom of a new garden bed we are starting for spring. I read that sunflower stalk were good to compost, so we’ll see. They are plentiful here. I added bags of oak leaves on top of that. I’ll try to attach a picture I took. I’ve been adding green stuff and coffee grounds here and there and turning it a lot. Hoping it will be a good base when I add soil in the spring. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Trying so hard to build up our sandy soil without buying a bunch of “stuff”.

    Well I can’t figure out how to add a pic…???

    • Hello Jennifer! Sunflowers are great for the compost pile! You are really adding to the space with excellent organic native material. Live oak leaves and sunflower stalks are pretty carbon dense; you may have to add a fair amount of nitrogen-rich material, like the coffee grounds you mentioned, to get the carbon material to break down by spring.

      Your sunflowers may not come back very well if you chop them down in the fall before the flowers go to seed. The sunflowers want to reseed themselves every year. If you want the sunflowers to return to that space, but also to keep the stalks, you should wait till the seeds appear on the flower heads, then cut off the flower heads and throw them on the ground before taking the stalks. Then your flowers should come back the next year. The more flower heads that remain in the soil, the more dense the flowers will grow over time.

      If you can’t attach that picture, can you e-mail it to me? Thanks Jennifer!

      • Oh, I only chopped the stalks after they were standing dead for two years. We still have plenty growing all around. Not sure what happened there. Also, there were tons of deer and rabbit droppings mixed in with the mulch I made. Yay. I’ll email pictures.

  2. We’re in Victoria. Do you know of a place near here that sells these seeds, or would you be willing to sell some to us? We’ll be through your area mid-October, but could come sooner, if you’d like.

    Thanks for whatever help you can provide.

    Mary Purcell Renascence Farm (in the infancy stages!!!)

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