The Sunflower

The story of sunflower (Helianthus Annulus) is indeed amazing.  The wild sunflower is native to North America but commercialization of the plant took place in Russia.  It was only recently that the sunflower plant returned to North America to become a cultivated crop.  But it was the American Indian who first domesticated the plant into a single headed plant with a variety of seed colors including black, white, red, and black/white striped.

Evidence suggests that the plant was cultivated by American Indians in present-day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Some archaeologists suggest that sunflower may have been domesticated before corn.  Seed was ground or pounded into flour for cakes, mush or bread.  Some tribes mixed the meal with other vegetables such as beans, squash, and corn.  The seed was also cracked and eaten for a snack. There are references of squeezing the oil from the seed and using the oil in making bread.

Canada started the first official government sunflower breeding program in 1930.  The basic plant breeding material utilized came from Mennonite (immigrants from Russia) gardens.  Acreage spread because of oil demand.  By 1946, Canadian farmers built a small crushing plant.  Acreage spread into Minnesota and North Dakota.  In 1964, the Government of Canada licensed the Russian cultivar called Peredovik.  This seed produced high yields and high oil content.  Acreage increased in the US with commercial interest in the production of sunflower oil.  Sunflower was hybridized in the middle seventies providing additional yield and oil enhancement as well as disease resistance.

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