Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Helianthus annuus, Common Sunflower

Common Sunflower is a native annual found throughout most of North America and one of the most well-known plants in the world. The plants have showy yellow flowers and may be used as attractive landscape features where bright color and dramatic vegetation is called for. Helianthus annuus Common Sunflower bracts surrounding the flower heads (phyllaries) are linear-lanceolate with acute linear tips. The foliage is rough and hairy. Helianthus annuus Common Sunflower also called Annual Sunflower, Hopi Sunflower and Wild Sunflower blooms from March to October and is found in elevations from 100 to 7,000 feet across its extreme geographic range. Helianthus annuus Common Sunflower has large bright green heart shaped leaves ovate or lanceolate and with long leaf stems (petioles); leaves are mostly alternate. The plants prefer several habitat types including riparian communities, roadsides and irrigated fields. Helianthus annuus

Scientific Name: Helianthus annuus
Common Name: Common Sunflower
Also Called: Annual Sunflower, Hopi Sunflower, Sunflower, Wild Sunflower (Spanish: Girasol, Mirasol, Flor de Sol)
Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family
Synonyms: (Helianthus annuus ssp. jaegeri, Helianthus annuus ssp. lenticularis, Helianthus annuus ssp. texanus, Helianthus annuus var. lenticularis, Helianthus annuus var. macrocarpus, Helianthus annuus var. texanus, Helianthus aridus, Helianthus lenticularis)
Status: Native
Duration: Annual
Size: Up to 9 feet.
Growth Form: Forb/herb, subshrub; erect main stem; branching on upper growth; rough, hairy.
Leaves: Bright green; leaves cordate or heart shaped, large, ovate or lanceolate; margins serrate; long petiole; leaves opposite below, and mostly alternate above.
Flower Color: Yellow, with maroon centers; showy, large flowers up to 5 inches across; radiate; ligulate ray flowers bright yellow, 13 or more disk flowers numerous; variable, reddish or yellow, anthers brown or black; flower heads few to many; seed is an achene.
Flowering Season: June to October.
Elevation: 100 to 7,000 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Multiple habitat types across its large distribution throughout North America; riparian communities, roadsides and irrigated fields, disturbed areas, scrub, grassland, many other habitats.

Recorded Range: Throughout most of North America and Mexico. Introduced nearly worldwide. Found throughout most of the southwestern United States.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Helianthus annuus.

U.S. Weed Information: Helianthus annuus is listed in 46 states and in: Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains, Weeds of the United States and Canada, and Weeds of the West. Plants included here may become weedy or invasive.

Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: Helianthus annuus is listed as a Noxious Weed by the State of Iowa. Plants included here are invasive or noxious.

Wetland Indicator: In North America Helianthus annuus has the following wetland designations: Alaska, FAC; Arid West, FACU; Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, FAC; Eastern Mountains and Piedmont, FAC; Great Plains, FACU; Midwest, FACU; Northcentral & Northeast, FACU; Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, FACU.

Threatened/Endangered Information: No data available.

Genus Information: In North America there are about 50 species and 10 hybrids for Helianthus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 71 accepted species names and a further 128 species of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 8 species of Helianthus, California has 11 species, Nevada has 7 species, New Mexico has 14 species, Texas has 21 species, Utah has 6 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

Comments: The Common Sunflower is perhaps one the most recognized flowers in the world. It is highly variable and readily hybridizes with several other native species and cultivars. In Arizona, Common Sunflower is similar to, and may be confused with the Prairie Sunflower. However, Common Sunflower generally has much larger leaves.

Sunflowers are favored by many native species of bees and the seeds are readily eaten by birds, small mammals and humans. Check out the Xerces Society for current information relating to invertebrate conservation.

In Southwestern Desert Flora also see Showy Sunflower, Helianthus niveus, and Prairie Sunflower, Helianthus petiolaris.

The Common Sunflower has been used for many purposes United States indigenous peoples.

  • Apache, Chiricahua & Mescalero Food, Bread & Cake; Seeds ground, sifted, made into dough and baked on hot stones.
  • Dakota Drug, Pulmonary Aid; Decoction of flower heads taken for pulmonary troubles.
  • Havasupai Food, Dried Food; Seeds sun dried and stored for winter use.
  • Hopi Other, Decorations; Petals dried, ground, mixed with yellow corn meal and used as a face powder in women's basket dance.
  • Kiowa Drug, Oral Aid; Coagulated sap chewed, by the elders, to diminish thirst.
  • Navajo Food, Bread & Cake; Seeds ground and made into bread and dumplings.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.
    Date Profile Completed: 7/31/2012; 06/30/2015; Updated, 07/25/2015, updated 10/12/2016, updated 05/24/2017, updated format 10/10/2017
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 05/23/2017)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 05/23/2017).
    David J. Keil 2017. Helianthus annuus, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on May 24, 2017.
    Edward E. Schilling, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21 | Asteraceae | Helianthus, Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; Pollinator-Friendly Plant Lists - (accessed 05/24/2017)
    SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations,