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Helianthus annuus - July 12, 2019

Grinter Farms near Lawrence (Photo by Micah Naeger, taken in 2018)

Q: The state of Kansas has been known by a number of nicknames, including the Wheat State, the Jayhawker State and the Breadbasket of the World.  Arguably, the most popular nickname for Kansas is the Sunflower State.  Out of all the counties in Kansas (there are 105!), which one produces the most sunflowers?
A: Sherman County 

According to the USDA, Sherman County produces more sunflowers than any other county in Kansas. There are dozens of species of sunflowers.  The scientific name for the common sunflower is Helianthus annuus.  A law was passed in 1903, making the wild native sunflower (Helianthus) the official state flower of Kansas.  (Nebraska had considered doing the same before the Kansas law passed.)   To many, the sunflower is merely beautiful or ornamental.  But it's also a beneficial and lucrative crop.  Sunflower seeds can be transformed into oils, biodiesel fuel, birdseed, snacks (often eaten at baseball games!) and more.  The sunflower hasn't always been so highly prized, though.  An 1895 state law called the sunflower a "noxious weed" that should be destroyed. Still others appreciate the flower's hardiness and endurance.  Many Kansas school children grew up singing the 1940s-era song "Sunflower," which was widely recorded by the top vocalists of the day, including Frank Sinatra.  Here's a popular version by Russ Morgan.  According to locals in Goodland, the county seat, late August through mid-September are the best times to observe tens of thousands of Sherman County sunflowers in full bloom. 

Here's what the Kansas Historical Society has to say about Kansas nicknames!

Fun Factoid: The sunflower has been used as food by American Indians for over 3,000 years.

Thanks to Micah Naeger, of Tonganoxie, for sharing her sunflower photos with KPR so we could use them on this webpage!

Random Factoid: Sherman County is one of only four Kansas counties to observe Mountain Time.  The others are Wallace, Greeley and Hamilton counties.  Check out more Kansas Trivia in KPR's online archive of all things Kansas.


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