The sunflower family has been part of the human diet for a very long time. Ornamental varieties are just as popular. Let’s find out what makes the sunflower family unique.
Also known as the daisy family, or the aster family, this family has two scientific names: Asteraceae and Compositae. Compositae, an older, yet still acceptable name, means composite, and it refers the compound flowers common to the family. Asteraceae is the more modern name and it means ‘star’, which also refers to the flower.
If you look closely at a flower of this plant family, you will see that it is actually made up of many tiny flowers clustered together. This flower head is called a pseudanthium. The individual flowers are called florets. These flower heads are usually surrounded by a whorl of bracts, called an involucre. In some cases, these composite flowers look like a single flower with long petals. These specialized ‘sunray’ petals are long, strap-shaped ‘ray flowers’, while the tiny flowers in the center are called ‘disk flowers’. Because these flower heads are made up of hundreds, or even thousands, of tiny flowers, plants in this family normally attract many pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Asteraceae plant structure
While most members of this family are herbaceous, some are shrubs, while others are vines, and some are even trees. Most members of the sunflower family produce taproots. These plants often contain latex. The leaves can be opposite, alternate, or whorled, and they are often lobed or toothed. The seeds are called 'cypselas' (a simple, dry, achene-like fruit), indehiscent (does not one at maturity), and they often have a mechanism that helps them fly on a breeze.
Plants in this family tend to be shallow-rooted, though not always. Generally, they do not perform well in heavy clay, so be sure to regularly top dress the soil with aged compost. This will increase the macropores and micropores within the soil structure, add nutrients, and provide for the microorganisms that feed your plants. These plants have very few pests or diseases.
Which members of this plant family are growing in your garden?
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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