Frequenltly Asked Questions

Posted on May 7th, 2009 by sunflower
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What’s the difference between sunflower seed and sunflower kernel?
A sunflower kernel is the ‘meat’ of sunflower seed. When you buy sunflower kernels, it means the processor has mechanically removed the hull. The kernel is now in a convenient form to be sold raw, roasted for snacking, or used as an ingredient.
When you buy sunflower seeds, this means the seed is left intact with the ‘meat’ of the seed still in the shell. It is normally roasted and seasoned and eaten as a snack by cracking the shell with one’s teeth, discarding the hull and eating the delicious morsel within.

Is there any harm in eating the sunflower seed shells or hulls?
The hulls are primarily fiber. Eating a lot of the hulls could conceivably cause one to become impacted. If not chewed properly, the sharp pieces of shell could possibly puncture or attach to the linings of the esophagus or digestive tract. However, the NSA office has not received any reports that would confirm either of these concerns.

Do sunflowers really follow the sun?
When the plant is in the bud stage, it tends to track the movement of the sun across the horizon. Once the flower opens into the radiance of yellow petals, it faces east. No one knows why. However, it is likely a defensive response. Facing south or west could result in sun-scalding of seeds during very hot days.

How A Seed Grows Into A Sunflower

How A Seed Grows Into A Sunflower

How many flowers or heads does the sunflower plant have?
The cultivated sunflower has only one flower or head. But the wild cousins found growing in ditches and other areas throughout much of North America have multiple flowers and heads. Multiples of 20 and more heads are common. The ‘wilds’ are the genetic basis of today’s domesticated sunflower.

When can I harvest my garden sunflowers? How will I know they are ready? How do I roast them?
The heads will be ready to harvest when the back of the head has turned brown. In northern areas, this might be after the first killing freeze. In warmer areas, the plant will dry down naturally. Simply snip the head off the plant and rub the seeds out by hand.
If birds or other pests are attacking your sunflower heads, you can cut the heads and hang them in your garage like onions often are dried. But you need to ensure that the seeds are mature. Look for the back of the head to be a banana yellow to turning brown before you harvest the heads. Remove any other plant debris.

How many commercial types of sunflower are grown?
There are two types grown. The first is Oilseed. This small black seed is very high in oil content and is processed into sunflower oil and meal. It is also the seed of choice of most bird feeders (see our Bird Feeding section).
The second type is Non-oilseed (confectionery sunflower). This is a larger black and white striped seed used in a variety of food products from snacks to bread.

How much does 1 cup of shelled sunflower kernels weigh?
1 cup = 8 oz (volume) = 4.2 oz (kernel by weight)

How many calories in an ounce of raw sunflower kernels?
The short answer is 160 calories. There are many healthy benefits to the sunflower kernel.

What is sunflower oil used for?
Linoleic sunflower oil is an excellent cooking oil with a neutral taste. This enhances the taste of food rather than overpowering it. Linoleic sunflower oil is high in linoleic (polyunsaturated) acid, an essential fatty acid. It is the preferred oil in most of Europe, East Europe, Russia, Mexico, countries along the Mediterranean and several South American countries.

What is high oleic sunflower?
High oleic sunflower oil is above 82 percent oleic (monounsaturated) acid. Read more about fatty acid profiles of sunflower oil, a healthy choice for use in your diet.

What is NuSun™?
NuSun™ is a mid-range oleic (monounsaturated) sunflower oil. It needs no hydrogenation and has a 9 percent saturated fat level. NuSun™ is extremely functional for frying applications and has a good balance of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that enhances the taste of products.

Which are the major producing states of sunflower?
The Dakotas, Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas and California. Our USDA Reports provide the status of oil and non-oil plantings for the top producing states in the country. The tables include information on acres planted, harvested, yield per pound per acre, and production per 1000 pounds for the current and most recent years.

Which countries are major producers of sunflower?
The largest traditional producer is Russia or the former Soviet Union. Argentina, the combined European Union, China, India, Turkey and South Africa are all significant producers of sunflower. To view the most current and historical data regarding harvest, production, and import data for sunflower seed, oil, and meal throughout the United States and the world, visit the World Supply & Disappearance section.

Why is Kansas the Sunflower State?
The sunflower plant is native to North America. The wild sunflower is so common in Kansas, it is actually a serious weed problem. These are the multiple headed plants.

Why is the sunflower such a popular art form?
The sunflower plant has almost ‘human-like’ characteristics and dimensions. The face of the blooming sunflower can almost speak to you. For this reason, the sunflower was a favorite subject for Europe’s greatest artists such as Van Gogh and Picasso. Sales of these paintings can bring millions of dollars today. The sunflower continues to be a favorite art form for designers of fashion to the every-day coffee mug. It has, and continues, to stand the test of time.

How is sunflower weight measured?
The most common world measurement is the metric ton. It is 1,000 kilograms or 2,204.62 pounds. Price quotations to the U.S. farmer are in hundredweight. Farmers in the U.S. gauge their yields by pounds per acre. Some government reports use bushels (28 pounds to the bushel).

What is a hectare?
A hectare is unit of surface measured in the metric system, equal to 10,000 square meters, i.e., 1 hectare = 2.471 acres.

Why do birds like to eat sunflower seeds?
Sunflower seeds are high in energy and provide many of the nutrients that most birds need and prefer. Studies indicate that most seed eating bird species prefer sunflower to other common types of seed.

What is the height of the tallest sunflower?
A sunflower grown in the Netherlands holds the record for being the tallest sunflower in the world. It measured 25 feet, 5.4 inches. (Source: 2004 Guinness World Records)

What is the record for the most sunflower heads on one sunflower plant?
According to the 2004 Guinness World Records, a sunflower grown in Michigan had 837 heads on one plant.

What size is the largest sunflower head on record?
That honor belongs to a 32 inch (82 cm) sunflower head that grew in British Columbia. (Source: 2004 Guinness World Records)

What is the BTU/# of sunflower hulls?
Sunflower hulls have a BTU content of 8300-8500 BTU/lb.

Should I be concerned about allergies when eating sunflower seeds or oil?
Confirmed cases of individuals allergic to sunflower seeds/oil are very rare. However, individuals allergic to peanuts or tree nuts should carefully look at the label to insure that the sunflower seed has been packed in a peanut and tree nut free facility.

Where can I learn more about sunflower production from start to finish?
The Kansas State University Agronomy Farm developed a web site ( that has photos and a description of the process of planting sunflower all the way through harvest. The site shows and explains the different sunflower growth stages, production tips, and practices from May through October.


Posted on May 7th, 2009 by sunflower
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The following are varieties of sunflowers (in alphabetical order): American Giant Hybrid Arikara Autumn Beauty Aztec Sun Black Oil Dwarf Sunspot Evening Sun Giant Primrose Indian Blanket Hybrid Irish Eyes  Italian White Kong Hybrid Large Grey Stripe Lemon Queen Mammoth Sunflower Mongolian Giant Orange Sun Peach Passion Red Sun Ring of Fire Rostov Skyscraper Soraya […]

Cultural Symbol

Posted on May 7th, 2009 by sunflower
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The sunflower is the state flower of the US state of Kansas, and one of the city flowers of Kitakyushu, Japan. It is also one of the national emblems of Russia. The sunflower is often used as a symbol of green ideology, much as the red rose is a symbol of socialism or social democracy. […]

Mathematical Model and Size

Posted on May 7th, 2009 by sunflower
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Mathematical model of floret arrangement   Illustration of Vogel’s model for n=1..500 .A model for the pattern of florets in the head of a sunflower was proposed by H Vogel in 1979. This is expressed in polar coordinates formula2   where θ is the angle, r is the radius or distance from the center, and […]

Cultivation and Uses

Posted on May 7th, 2009 by sunflower
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To grow well, sunflowers need full sun. They grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil with a lot of mulch. In commercial planting, seeds are planted 45 cm (1.5 ft) apart and 2.5 cm (1 in) deep. Sunflower “whole seed” (fruit) are sold as a snack food, after roasting in ovens, with or without salt […]


Posted on May 7th, 2009 by sunflower
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Francisco Pizarro was the first European to encounter the sunflower in Tahuantinsuyo, Peru, where the natives Incas worshipped its image as a symbol of the sun god. At the beginning of the 16th century, gold figures of this flower as well as its seeds were brought to Europe. The sunflower is native to the Americas. […]


Posted on April 22nd, 2009 by sunflower
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The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant in the family Asteraceae and native to the Americas, with a large flowering head (inflorescence). The stem can grow as high as 3 meters (9 3/4 ft), and the flower head can reach 30 cm (11.8 in) in diameter with the “large” seeds. The term “sunflower” is […]