1902 Encyclopedia > Sunflower


SUNFLOWER. In the modern vernacular this name is most commonly applied to various species of Helianthus, especially to H. annuits; but, as this is a tropical American herb, and the word "sunflower" or something corresponding to it existed in English literature prior to its introduction, or at any rate prior to its general diffusion in gardens, it is obvious that some other flower than the Helianthus must have been intended. The marigold (Calendula oficinalis) is considered by Dr Prior to have been the plant intended by Ovid (Met., iv. 269-70)—

"... Illa suum, quamvis radice tenetur,
Vertitur ad solem; mutataque servat amorem"—

and likewise the solsaece of the Anglo-Saxon, a word equivalent to solsequium (sun-following). But this movement with the sun is more imaginary than real, the better explanation being afforded by the resemblance to "the radiant beams of the sun," as Gerard expresses it. The central disk of tubular hermaphrodite flowers, encompassed by the spreading neuter florets of the ray, has, indeed, a marked resemblance to the sun as conventionally depicted. The florets are provided with two or three dry, sharply pointed scales, which serve as pappus, and the whole mass of florets is encircled by a close involucre of leafy bracts. There are numerous varieties of the common sunflower in cultivation, the so-called double form being one in wbich the ordinarily tubular florets in the centre become spreading and "ligulate" like those at the circumference. The seeds, or more strictly speaking the fruits, contain much oil, for which the plant is cultivated in southern Russia. The oil is used in the manufacture of soap. The seeds are also valued for their agreeable flavour, and are much used as food for poultry, &c. The so-called "Jerusalem artichoke" (Helianthus tuberosus) belongs to the same genus. It is believed to be a native of Canada, or perhaps a modified form of H. doronicoides. The tubers are rich in inulin and sugar, and the plant deserves more attention at the hands of cultivators than it has yet received. The word "Jerusalem" is evidently a corruption while "artichoke" applies to the flavour of the tuber, which is not unlike that of the artichoke.

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