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Press Release 08-083

Getting to the Roots of Sunflower Cultivation

Genetic information from ancient stocks could help address effects of global warming on valuable food crop

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Aztec figure drawn on parchment holding sunflowers; sunflower field in the background.

Researchers have found evidence that the sunflower, Helianthus annuus, has a long history of domestication and cultivation in Mexico, occurring well before the Spanish Conquest in the early 1500s. Evidence points to the sunflower having been cultivated as far back as 2600 B.C. This is an artist's interpretation of how the lore of the cultivated flower could have been included on long-lost Aztec artifacts.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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Photo of wild sunflowers in Nuevo Leon in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains.

Wild sunflowers bloom in Nuevo Leon in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains. Project researchers now believe sunflowers were domesticated twice, once in the eastern part of the Mississippi Valley about 3,200 years ago, and independently farmed in Mexico about 4,600 years ago.

Credit: Credit: David Lentz, University of Cincinnati


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Photo of David Lentz with a Tarahumara sunflower gardener in Mexico.

Researchers spoke with a number of Mexican indigenous groups to determine the history of sunflowers in Mesoamerica.

Credit: Credit: Robert Bye, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico


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