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The Science of Sunflowers

Contrary to popular belief, the sunflower is not a single flower. The head of the sunflower is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers called florets. This ingenious design makes it easy for insects to find and pollinate the flowers. Each of the tiny florets, when pollinated, results in a single seed.

The florets are arranged in a spiral pattern, whereby each floret is oriented towards the next by the golden angle of 137.5°. The number of left and right spirals are consecutive Fibonacci numbers (The Fibonacci Sequence is the series of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, ...The next number is found by adding up the two numbers before it.) The Fibanacci sequence can be found throughout nature including: in pine cones,, in the regular descent (genealogy) of the male bee, in the related logarithmic (equiangular) spiral in snail shells, in the arrangement of leaf buds on a stem, in animal horns, and much more...

The scientific name of the sunflower is Helianthus annus. It is in the family Asteraceae which includes more than 1,620 genera and 23,600 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees distributed throughout the world, making it one of the largest plant families. Interestingly artichokes, lettuce, endive and wormwood are also part of the asteraceae family. The characteristic that all members of the family share are the composite flowers made up of florets.

In addition to resembling a sun in shape and color, the sunflower also gained its name from the fact that the head is seen to track the path of the sun through the sky. This phenomenon is called heliotropism. While the heads do move in relationship to the sun, this only occurs prior to blooming. After the flower is in bloom, the heads remain in a fixed position facing the east. This protects the pollen from being burned by the heat of the sun. 


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