Whether you’ve had a bad day and need some quiet time, or whether your faith has taken a hit lately and you need some assurance that there is still good in this world, take a drive along any back road going anywhere in Kansas right now and let God treat you to a spectacle only He can provide in the form of acre-after-acre of brightly shimmering wild sunflowers in the ditches and fencerows. As you drive along, thousands of luminescent yellow heads appear to guide your way and offer a boost to your spirits.
Did you know that the sunflower is the only crop grown for seed that was domesticated right here in the USA? Sunflowers were a common crop among Native American tribes throughout North America, and Spanish explorers took the exotic plants back to Europe in the 1500’s. Sunflowers were first grown for food in Russia. By the early 19th century, Russian farmers were growing over 2 million acres, and by the late 19th century, Russian sunflower seed had found it’s way back to North America again. Though different from domestic sunflowers in many ways, wild sunflowers are the genetic basis of today’s commercially grown crop. Domestic sunflower blooms appear to follow the sun across the horizon each day, but once the radiant flowers open, they actually face east for the rest of their lives. This is possibly a defense mechanism, as facing any other direction could scald the seeds before they ripen. Wild sunflowers don’t seem to care which direction they face. Last year the U.S. had just over 1.8 million acres of sunflowers planted commercially; approximately 58,000 of those acres were planted here in Kansas. 2015 sunflower production in the US totaled 2.92 billion pounds, and the top two sunflower producing states were North and South Dakota. Russia and the Ukraine combine to grow more sunflowers than any other country, nearly 15 times more than the US. The sunflower, by the way is the national flower of Russia.
Now heres a little “sunflower trivia,” compliments of the Guinness Book of World Records. A sunflower grown in Germany holds the record for the tallest ever grown, at 30 feet, 1 inch, a sunflower grown in British Columbia boasts the widest head ever recorded at over 32 inches across, and a sunflower grown in Michigan claims the most heads with 837 sunflower heads on one plant.
In 1903 the sunflower became the state flower of Kansas. As history has it, in 1901, George Morehouse, a state senator from Council Grove, attended a rodeo in Colorado Springs where all the Kansas folk in attendance wore sunflowers identifying them as Kansans. So moved and inspired by the Kansas spirit was he, that upon returning home, he drafted the bill naming the sunflower as our state flower. In this original bill, Morehouse stated “This flower has to all Kansans an historical symbolism which speaks of frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairie and is full of the life and glory of the past, the pride of the present and richly emblematic of the majesty of the golden future, and is a flower which has given Kansas the world-wide name “The Sunflower State.”
The last couple years we’ve had typical Kansas weather, first dried and roasted, then flooded, over and over again, but like the mailman, those Kansas wild sunflowers don’t seem to care. They fill the ditches and pastures of our state with a gazillion gleaming jewels fit for any king’s crown. So take a lesson from the wild sunflower and when life deals you adverse conditions…….turn them into sunflower seeds! (I know that doesn’t make sense but it sounds cool) Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]