North Dakota grows more sunflowers than any other state.
Sunflower seeds are a popular snack food not only in the United
States but also in parts of Spain. Spain buys almost half of the
confection sunflower exports of the United States.
The earliest known examples of a fully domesticated sunflower
north of Mexico have
been found in Tennessee and date back to around 2300 B.C. Many
indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of
the sun deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and
the Incas in South America. Gold images of the flower, as well
seeds, were taken back to Spain early in the 16th century.
During the 18th Century, the use of sunflower oil became very
popular in Europe,
particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church because
sunflower oil was
one of the few oils that was not prohibited during Lent. The
cake remaining after the
seeds have been processed for oil is used as a livestock feed.
Some recently developed cultivars have drooping heads.
Sunflowers also produce latex and are the subject of experiments
to improve their suitability as an alternative crop for
producing hypoallergenic rubber.
The sunflower is native to the Americas. Current research shows
that it may have been domesticated twice, first in Mexico and
later in the middle Mississippi Valley. 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') apart and 2.5 cm (1") deep.
growing other crops, the sunflower is considered a weed.
wild variety will grow unwanted in corn and soybean fields and
can have a negative impact on yields.
Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as
a carrier oil and to produce biodiesel, for which it is less
expensive than the olive product. A range of sunflower varieties
exist with differing fatty acid compositions; some 'high oleic'
types contain a higher level of healthy monounsaturated fats in
their oil than even olive oil.
Most of the processing plants for these sunflowers are located
in North Dakota and the area is considered a key player in the
The USDA estimated that the blackbirds eat about $10 million
worth of sunflowers every year in North Dakota accounting for
about half of the nation's sunflower production.