You may be wondering to yourself: common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are native to North America; what do they have to do with Spain? Spain is actually a major producer of sunflowers: the 14th largest grower of sunflowers worldwide. And indeed, for a plant with humble beginnings, ranging across the dry plains, prairies, foothills, and meadows from the central and southern U.S. to northern Mexico, sunflowers have become a major global crop, not as cut flowers but for their oil-rich seeds.
In a rather bizarre example of how globally beloved this iconic yellow flower has become, the Spanish town of Carmona, 35km from Seville, has started to draw thousands of Japanese tourists to its vast fields of sunflowers as they flower and mature from May to July.
Perhaps it’s no stranger, then, that we also grew several cultivars of this well-loved plant here in Singapore for our Spanish-themed display!
All the sunflower cultivars grown in-house this year are shorter dwarf varieties that can grow from seed to flower in just 11-13 weeks! While they may look like single ‘flowers’, each sunflower is actually a flower head composed of hundreds of tiny flowers or florets, a trait common to members of the Asteraceae or Aster family to which sunflowers belong.
Most sunflowers have a central disc of hundreds of fertile ray florets surrounded by a single or double outer ring of ray florets, each with a single petal-like projection. These include both ‘Ballad’, with an double outer ring of warm yellow ray florets surrounding a center of dark disc florets, and ‘Dwarf’ – ironically the tallest of the four cultivars at well over 1m – with a lighter, lemon yellow ring of ray florets encircling yellow-green disc florets.
Two special cultivars, ‘Dwarf Teddy Bear’ and ‘Gummy Bear’ both have a single ring of long ray florets surrounding disc florets that have been converted to ray florets, each having a smaller petal-like ray that together give the flower head a plush, fuzzy appearance.
See these sunflowers in person and decide which is your favorite, but hurry! They’re only on display for a few more days before ‘A Spanish Serenade with Sunflowers’ ends on 30 October.
Written by: Janelle Jung, Senior Researcher (Research and Horticulture)
A transplanted pake (Hawai'i-born Chinese), she's finding her own Singaporean roots. Every plant has a story, and Janelle helps discover and share these with colleagues and guests, hoping to spark a mutual plant passion! Ask her what plant she named her cat after!