Sunflowers are showy, ray-like flowers with large, disk-shaped centers.

The most common type has bright golden petals and a dark-brown center. Other popular varieties are the double, or teddy bear, sunflower and the smaller, rust-colored or autumn beauty sunflower. Sunflowers can even reach ten feet in height.

Purchase or cut sunflowers when three-fourths to fully open. The petals will still be slightly turned upward. The petals should be firm to the touch. The center is the best indication for freshness—there should be not pollen. Sunflowers produce quantities of yellow pollen with age, but some new, low-pollen varieties have a longer vase life.

NAMES: Sunflower, Helianthus.

VARIETIES: There are over a hundred varieties. Helianthus annuus (the common sunflower) in single and double varieties is the best known.

COLORS: All shades of yellow, from pale lemon to deep gold, are the most common. Some varieties are available in rust and brown colors. The disks may be brown or green in color.

SCENT: None.

FRESHNESS: Three-fourths to fully open, with the petals slightly turned upward and firm to the touch. The center disk is clan, with no signs of pollination. The flower is sturdy and upright.

VASE LIFE: Approximately 5 days or even longer. The large green leaves may wilt quickly after the flower is cut. Just strip them away if necessary as this also prolongs vase life.

AVAILABILITY: Summer is the predominant season, but sunflowers are available in spring and fall as well.

COST: Moderately priced.

MEANING: Haughtiness, pride.

OTHER: Watch the water level—sunflowers are very heavy drinkers.