Look, we have a sunflower that’s over 7 feet tall! We’ve had a tall one in December, but this one’s even taller. It came from the same batch of seeds as the other plants in its plot. Same variety. Now every one of them has been harvested; none, however, grew taller than a meter, which is the average height of a sunflower. And this one’s still here, a lovely freak of nature.
Some varieties of sunflowers grow very tall, however. The record holder was 25 feet and 5.5 inches tall. Geez! It was grown in the Netherlands by M. Heijmf in 1986. (The shortest, on the other hand, was only 2 inches tall. The grower used the bonsai technique.)
Sunflowers are generally taller than other flowering plants. How did they get to be so tall?
There might be two explanations. The first is simple adaptation. If you’re growing in a field with others, you fight for direct sunlight and pollinators. Being tall is an advantage. And the way natural selection works, that advantage enables you to survive and propagate your own kind.
Then along came the growers. Sunflowers have been around for about a thousand years. The Aztecs were the first to grow them. They cultivated them for their seeds, which they ground and used as flour to produce pita-like bread. They also boiled the seeds to extract oil, which they used to soften leather, heal wounds, and condition their hair.
So the Aztecs and more so, the modern day growers, naturally wanted sunflowers with bigger faces; the bigger the face, the more the seeds. Now when you have a big head, the rest of the body adjusts – the stalk becomes thicker, stronger, and (remember the fight for sunlight and pollinators?) so much taller. Some growers developed a liking for really tall ones and started breeding them. They participate in a competition. Imagine getting lost in a “forest” of sunflowers. I have Alice in Wonderland in mind.
Back to our giant. Take note of the little flower on its foot. Fancy that. A giant and a dwarf.