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The sunflower is a tall plant known for its showy yellow flowers. There are more than 60 species of sunflowers. The most common type grows from 3 to 10 feet tall and has one or more heads of flowers. Each head consists of a disk of small tubular flowers surrounded by a fringe of large yellow petals. A sunflower head may measure more than a foot in diameter and produce up to 1,000 seeds. The head turns and faces toward the sun throughout the day.
Sunflower seeds are rich in protien. They yield a high quality vegetable oil used in making margarine and cooking oil. Some varieties of sunflowers have large striped seeds, which are roasted for snack food or blended with other grains to make birdseed. Special oil-seed varieties produce small black seeds that contain up to 50% oil. Sunflower oil is the world's third most important vegetable oil. Only soybean oil and palm oil are produced in greater abundance. Sunflower oil is sometimes used as a replacement for diesel fuel.
Sunflowers originated in North America and were introduced into Europe during the 1500's. Some species come up every year, but the most common ones must be grown annualy from seeds.
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