Sunflowers are for the birds

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 7, 2003

Sunflowers turn their pretty heads toward the sun to catch the rays, but they also turn the heads of passersby.

Those who travel along the Elba Highway near Mossy Grove are going to look and then look again as they pass Frank Oscar Bryan's fields of, arguably, the world's prettiest flowers.

Sunflowers are considered by many to be the prettiest flowers of them all. Bryan's not going to argue that point with anyone, but he did say that this year's field of sunflowers is prettier than last year's. And, he has eight acres of huge, yellow heads nodding in agreement.

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Bryan has land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and has dedicated several acres of the enrollment to a wildlife plot.

Last year, he broadcast sunflowers across the plot as a feeding site for birds and was pleased with the way they grew. This year, he "went to a little more trouble" and planted the sunflowers in rows and is even more pleased with the fruits of his labor.

"The fields were pretty last year, but, this year, they're even prettier," he said. "Planting in rows made a real difference."

Bryan first used a four-row, pea-plate to plant the seeds. Then he decided to try planting with a peanut plate.

"I made two rounds with the peanut plate and saw that was too many rows, so I went back to the pea-plate and I'm real pleased with the way they look," he said.

Bryan said he has been told that sunflowers attract insects and he's beginning to believe that's true.

"I planted sunflowers out at the farm and I picked peas out there the other day and none of them were bug stung," he said. "Something kept the insects away from the peas. Maybe it was the sunflowers. If so, they 're good for more than looking pretty and feeding birds."

And, with all of the bees buzzing around the sunflowers, Bryan has found another use for the simple yellow beauties.

"I talked with Ron and Timmy Jones (Jones Bee Ranch) about all the bees around the sunflowers," he said.

"They think that next year the bees might be a source of sunflower honey."

Bryan has also learned that sunflowers can be hung upside down and dried and then used as home bird feeders.

"I've taken

some of the sunflowers out to the Pioneer Farmers Market and people have bought them for bird feeders," he said. "I'm not sure how long it will take the sunflowers to dry out. But most people will want to wait

until the fall, anyway, when everything is dying down to put them out for the birds.

Sunflower fields attract doves and are prime spots for dove shoots in season.

Bryan said sunflowers are easy to grow because they grow in any soil - from sandy to clay. And they will usually flourish in places where other plants won't grow.

He recommends planting sunflowers because they are a multi-purpose plant. And, those who don't want to share the seeds with the birds, can eat them themselves.

After the seeds are fully dried, they should be soaked overnight in strong salt water. After draining, the seeds may be placed on a baking sheet and roasted at 200 degrees for about three hours.

Those who argue that sunflowers aren't the prettiest flowers on earth, can't deny that they are the tastiest.

Anyone who's eaten them can "ataste" to that.