Growth Form:Forb/herb or subshrubs; stems stout, main stem upright (erect), stems rough with rigid hairs (hispid); heavy branching on upper growth.
Leaves: Bright green; the leaves are coarse and rough-hairy (hispid); most of the leaves are upper or cauline arranged alternately along the stem; leaf shape mostly lance-ovate, some ovate and some broader; leaves coarsely toothed to few teeth to no teeth; some leaves have hairs with a small gland beneath each hair (see photo above); leaves are often with moderate to long supporting stem (petioles).
Flower Color: Yellow, with maroon centers; large, showy, numerous flowers up to 5 inches (8 cm) across; flower heads with both ray (10 to 30) and disk (100 or more) florets; rayflorets bright yellow, diskflorets brown; fruit is a cypsela.
Flowering Season: June to October
Elevation: 100 to 7,000 feet (30-2,133 m)
Habitat Preferences: Multiple habitat types across its large distribution throughout North America; riparian communities, roadsides and irrigated fields, disturbed areas, scrub, grassland, many other habitats.
Recorded Range: Throughout most of North America and Mexico. Introduced nearly worldwide. Found throughout most of the southwestern United States.
North America species range map for Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus:
North American range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation
Click image for full size map
U.S. Weed Information:Helianthus annuus is listed in:
Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains;
Weeds of the United States and Canada;
Weeds of the West.
Plants included here may become weedy or invasive.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information:Helianthus annuus is listed as a Noxious Weed by:
the State of Iowa, Wild Sunflower, Secondary Noxious Weed.
Plants included here are invasive or noxious.
Wetland Indicator: In North America Helianthus annuus has the following wetland designations:
Arid West, FACU;
Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, FAC;
Eastern Mountains and Piedmont, FAC;
Great Plains, FACU;
Northcentral & Northeast, FACU;
Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, FACU.
FAC = Facultative, occur in wetlands and non-wetlands
FACU = Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands
Threatened/Endangered Information: Unknown
Genus Information: In North America there are 62 species and 62 accepted taxa overall for genus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 71 accepted species names and a further 128 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.
In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 8 species of Helianthus, California has 11 species, Nevada has 7 species, New Mexico has 14 species, Texas has 21 species, Utah has 6 species. Data approximate and subject to revision.
Comments: The Common Sunflower is perhaps one the most recognized flowers in the world. It is highly variable and readily hybridizes with several other native species and cultivars. In Arizona, Common Sunflower is similar to, and may be confused with the Prairie Sunflower. However, Common Sunflower generally has much larger leaves and phyllaries that are much more ovate.
Most Sunflowers with their brightly colored flowers and palatable seeds are known to be visited by hummingbirds and/or small mammals in search of food and nectar. In addition, the relatively larger size of the plants provide important protection through cover to many small mammals.
Sunflower seeds are often used in wild bird mixes.
Beneficial Value to Butterflies, Bees and Insects
Most Sunflowers of the genus Helianthus, with their generally brightly colored yellow flowers are known to be visited by butterflies, moths and other insects in search of food. Also, Helianthus flowers, leaves and stems serve as an important host for the larvae (caterpillars) of several species of moths and butterflies known to feed on this plant.
Special Value to Native Bees
According to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of Native bees. Click here for more information on their Pollinator Conservation Program.
The genus “Helianthus” (Helian'thus:) is derived from two Greek words helios, “sun,” and anthos, “flower,” in reference to the sunflower's supposed tendency to always turn toward the sun.
The species epithet “annuus” (an'nuus:) means annual.
The Common Sunflower has been used for many purposes United States indigenous peoples.
Apache, Chiricahua & Mescalero Food, Bread & Cake and Food, Sauce; Seeds ground, sifted, made into dough and baked on hot stones and Relish and Seeds ground into flour and used to make a thick gravy.
Apache, White Mountain Drug, Snake Bite Remedy and Food, Staple; Poultice of crushed plants applied to snakebites and Seeds used to make flour.
Cahuilla Food, Staple; Dried seeds ground and mixed with flour from other seeds.
Costanoan Food, Unspecified; Seeds used for food, usually not in pinole.
Dakota Drug, Analgesic and Pulmonary Aid; Infusion of flowers used for chest pains and Decoction of flower heads taken for pulmonary troubles.
Gosiute Food, Cooking Agent and Unspecified; Seeds a highly prized source of oil and Seeds a highly prized source of food.
Gros Ventre Drug, Ceremonial Medicine and Drug, Stimulant; Oil from seeds used 'to lubricate or paint the face or body' and Dried, powdered seeds mixed into cakes and taken on war party to combat fatigue.
Gros Ventre Food, Staple and Unspecified; Powdered seed meal boiled or made into cakes with grease and Seeds eaten raw.
Havasupai Food, Dried Food and Preserves and Food, Staple; Seeds sun dried and stored for winter use and Seeds parched, ground, kneaded into seed butter and eaten with fruit drinks or spread on bread and Seeds ground and eaten as a ground or parched meal.
Hopi Drug, Dermatological Aid and Food, Fodder and Other, Decorations;Plant used as a 'spider medicine' and Used as an important food for summer birds and Petals dried, ground, mixed with yellow corn meal and used as a face powder in women's basket dance.
Isleta Other, Ceremonial Items Pith used to light the ceremonial cigarettes.
Jemez Drug, Dermatological Aid and Fiber, Building Material and Other, Decorations and Other, Soap; Juice applied to cuts and Sunflower mixed with clay, to hold the particles together, and used for plaster and Flowers used by the Koshares as a decoration for dances and Seeds boiled and water used to wash in.
Kawaiisu Food, Staple and Oral Aid and Food, Unspecified; Roasted seeds pounded, ground into a meal and eaten dry and Coagulated sap chewed, by the elders, to diminish thirst and Seeds ground into a paste like consistency and eaten.
Luiseno Food, Unspecified; Seeds used for food.
Mandan Drug, Ceremonial Medicine and Drug, Stimulant and Food, Staple and Food, Unspecified; Oil from seeds used 'to lubricate or paint the face or body' and Dried, powdered seeds mixed into cakes and taken on war party to combat fatigue and Powdered seed meal boiled or made into cakes with grease and Seeds eaten raw.
Mohave Food, Staple and Food, Winter Use Food; Seeds winnowed, parched, ground and eaten as pinole and Seeds stored in gourds or ollas.
Montana Indian Food, Bread & Cake and Food, Porridge; Seeds dried, powdered and grease added to make cakes and Seeds dried, powdered and boiled to make gruel.
Navajo Drug, Ceremonial Medicine and Ceremonial Items and Ceremonial Items; Plant, double bladderpod, sumac and mistletoe used in the liniment for the War Dance and Hollow stalk used in the illusion of swallowing the arrow during the Mountain Chant and Stalk made into flute used in an ancient custom of timing the grinding of the corn at the War Dance.
Navajo Drug, Dietary Aid and Dye, Red; Seeds eaten to give appetite and Outer seed coatings boiled and used as a dull, dark red dye.
Navajo Food, Bread & Cake and Food, Bread & Cake and Food, Porridge; Seeds ground and made into bread and dumplings and Seeds mixed with corn, ground into a meal and made into cakes and Seeds ground and made into gruel.
Navajo Other, Hunting & Fishing Item
Stalks used to make bird snares. Bird snares were made of stalks in which were drilled two small holes. In one of these holes was inserted a twig of greasewood and at the end of this was fastened a sliding loop of horsehair. The greasewood twig was then bent in a bow and the loop passed through the upper hole, across which was laid a small piece of reed. The small stick below the loop was placed so that one end rests on the rim of the stalk and the other end on the reed. When a bird alighted on this, the small piece of reed was disturbed and the greasewood twig straightened, drawing the horsehair loop with the bird's foot in it into the stalk.
Navajo, Kayenta Drug, Ceremonial Medicine and Drug Pediatric Aid and Drug; Plant used for sun sandpainting ceremony and Plant used for prenatal infection caused by solar eclipse.
Navajo, Ramah Drug, Dermatological Aid; Moxa of pith used on scratched wart for removal.
See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.