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 Cover story : 10 Dec 04
 Vol. 21 No. 17
From a Commercial Crop to Agro-tourism
By Thantawan / Photos by Induang
One fine day, my friends and I went to Nong Saeng County, Saraburi Province, to visit our beloved friend, Tawan, whom we hadn't seen for a long time. As we were approaching his home, all of us were stunned by the magnificent scenery of the vast area of a golden sunflower field of which the background was the clear blue sky. It was very beautiful and photogenic. Tawan welcomed us with the lovely yellow sunflowers from his field.
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We were very surprised after learning that Tawan had turned himself from an office worker to a sunflower expert. After chatting for a while, Tawan took us to admire the beauty of the sunflowers in his field. While walking along the rows of the sunflowers, Tawan gave us a lot of information about this exotic plant. It is so interesting that I would like to share it with you. Are you ready? Welcome to the world of the sunflower.
The Nature of the Sunflower
The sunflower or Heliathus annus. Or known as Thantawan in Thai is an annual plant well grown in temperate zones. When the plant is in the bud stage, it tends to follow the movement of the sun from the east to the west, in order to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis. Once the flower fully opens, it will face east and there will be no movement anymore.
A sunflower can grow to 5 metres tall. Its green leaves are in the heart shape. Normally each cultivated sunflower plant has only one flower, but the wild species have multiple flowers. The flower has yellow or reddish-yellow petals around a brown disc. In each disc, there are several hundred to a thousand florets that are hermaphrodite. Its fruits or seeds are various in colour -- pure black, black with gray or white stripes and white with gray stripes. This depends on the species.

Like the Soya bean and the oil palm, the sunflower is a commercial oil crop that plays an outstanding role in the world market. There are two types of commercial sunflower, viz. Oilseed -- Its small black seed is very high in oil content. It is processed into sunflower oil and meal, and is also used for feeding birds, Non-oilseed (confectionery sunflower) -- Its larger black and white striped seed is used to make a variety of food products from snacks to bread.
Brief History
Universally, the sunflower is the flower of pride and cheerfulness. There is a legend based on Greek mythology that tells us the origin of the sunflower. The legend has it that once upon a time, Clytie, a dryad, deeply fell in love with Apollo, the God of the Sun. But Apollo felt no love for her. Hence, all she could do was just sitting and fixing her eyes only on her beloved sun from sunrise until sunset. Magically, the body of Clytie was changed into a sunflower. Her legs turned to be the stem while the face became the flower. Her gold hair became the yellow petals. Though in the form of a flower, Clytie still turned her face to the sun all the time. That is why the sunflower always turns its head to the sun.

Actually, the sunflower is a native plant of North America. It is said that the plant was cultivated, in about 3000 BC, by Indians in the area which is the present-day Arizona and New Mexico. Then, around 1500 AD, the sunflower was taken to Europe by Spanish explorers. There, it was planted as an ornamental plant. This exotic flower, later, gained its popularity as a commercial crop when it was brought to Russia.

Before World War I (1914-1918), our planet had about 3,200 sq. kilometres of sunflower fields which could produce about a hundred thousand ton of sunflower oil. At present, the quantity of sunflower oil from all over the world is sevenfold. The figure, however, tends to rise continuously. The countries that are major producers of the sunflower include Russia, Argentina, the combined European Union, China, India, Turkey and South Africa.
The Sunflower Cultivation in Thailand
In Thailand, we started planting sunflowers as a commercial crop in 1988, with a total area of 12 sq. kilometres. Last year, the area of sunflower fields increased to about 800 sq. kilometres that gave over sixty thousand ton of sunflower oil. The plant is commonly grown after the farmer harvested their main crops (corn, Soya beans, etc.). Generally, farmers will grow sunflowers during the period from late September to November. Then the plants will be in full bloom around November and December.
The sunflower is well grown in central, northern and northeastern provinces of Thailand such as Lop Buri, Saraburi, Nakhon Sawan, Phetchabun, Uthai Thani, Uttaradit, Ratchaburi, Kanchanaburi, Kam- phaeng Phet, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Sakaeo and Nakhon Ratchasima.However, Lop Buri and Saraburi are the most famous sites