Giant Mutant Sunflowers Take Over My Garden

It started out simply enough in the summer of 1998. The guy next door gave me a packet of very old sunflower seeds. I planted them, got three nice, tall sunflowers. The following summer, I planted some, and noticed other volunteers. The volunteers were bigger than the parents, so I saved some seed and decided not to be too careful about cleaning up the seeds the birdies miss. Year three, no volunteers came up (there was a drought in 1999), so I planted some of the saved seeds, and get even bigger, taller sunflowers. A few send up a second or third bud after the initial flowers.
Fast forward to last year. I get a zillion volunteers, some growing out of the crack between the edge of the raised bed's wooden boards and the cement patio. I pull most of them, but leave about a dozen scattered plants. The tallest eventually get 12-15 feet high - towering over my trellis, and almost as tall as the peak of my neighbor's garage. They have one large flower, and after that, develop side buds and branches that have more large flowers, then taper off into smaller flowers on the end of each branch. One plant has dozens of large and small flowers, and I seem to be running the goldfinch feeding station for all of Bergen County. My elderly neighbor is out there taking pictures for her scrapbook. I'm taking pictures, too. The plants do have their limits, tho, because the long branches are weak at their forks where they join the main stem, and the longer they get, the more likely they break off under heavy rain or strong wind. A few of the plants also get top heavy with seed and have to be tied up to the trellis. By Labor Day, my raised bed looks like the sunflower rain forest, as the poor tomatoes are growing up overhead between branches in search for the sun. Does not seem to stop them from producing fruit, and I have to stand on a step stool to pick it before the frost gets here from the now-dying sunflowers. Big mess to clean out all those tall things and get the debris into the recycling barrel!
This year, I again have a lot of volunteers. I transplant or give away most of them, leaving what seems like a reasonable number in May. Here it is, July, and I have one plant that is over 8 feet tall, and several that are over 6 feet. I have been striping the bottom two pairs of leaves off the plants so that the tomatoes and everything else that is also thriving will get better light. Bear in mind that this bed is about three feet wide and twenty feet long, and it's two months before these things stop growing! When I transplant them, they do not get as tall as the volunteers I leave in place, but even the row of nine I planted against the house are at least chest high.
The question is: does anyone think there is a market for these mutants? Anyone have any idea how to find out? I can save seed (even if I have to goldfinch-proof a few plants), but I don't have a clue as to what to do after that. Everyone that has seen them has asked me where I got them or where I got the seed. The ones that I give away as transplants seem to do quite well in other places, so it's not just my brown thumb or some peculiar magic in my yard. Apparently, I've stumbled into some genetic mutation magic that works!
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

You might consider partnering with an agricultural school in your state. They might pay for the patent process and split the proceeds with you.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Rick wrote:

I'm in NJ, so that would be Rutgers. I don't know if they have an interest in something so borderline in terms of a "food" crop, but I never thought of even calling them - thanks for the idea.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

There is a good market for sunflower oil, sufficient that it's a cash crop in Canada and elsewhere.
<wondering how they'd do here in the desert, where the tomatos look like mutunt weeds from outer space>
~REZ~
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Rez wrote:

Trust me, it would look like mutant TREES from outer space. I measured the leaves on the really tall one today, and it's 22 inches across the widest part from side to side. Three of them, and I'd have a bikini, but I'd probably frighten the neighbors...
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

SNIP
The tallest eventually get 12-15 feet high - towering over my

More snippage
Don't your kids have sunflower contests in US?
Every summer here in UK the local papers are full of pictures of the grinning little monsters with sunflowers as tall as the house, staked with all manner of timber supports.
Maybe you could market them as world's tallest or whatever. It's one of the prime methods of getting kids interested in gardening over here.
Steve
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
shazzbat wrote:

If they do that over here, they don't do it around here - I'm in the NYC suburbs, where kids are too sophisticated to leave home and come in contact with actual nature not on a GameBoy.
I don't think these are the world's tallest, but they are sure strange. And BIG. The flowers are not terribly impressive as sunflowers go - they remind me of the ones sold as cut flowers for arrangements. It's just that there are so MANY of them on one plant at a time. Most of them start with three or four topmost buds open at first, and as the season progresses, keep opening new side branches with new flowers.
I gotta post some pictures somewhere. It's not easy to explain them. I could almost see them as a cultivare for the sheer number of cut blooms, and cutting them does not seem to slow down the parent plant a bit. The birds seem attracted to them more than regular sunflowers, too, probably because they get good protection by the foliage when they are feeding off the seeds on the spent flowers.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Yes, please do, I'd like to see them. I had one went bananas a couple of years ago and produced loads and loads of heads, but only at about 4ft tall
Steve ( I still think you should work on the kids)
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

They used to around here, in South Carolina, I used to see pictures of them in the paper.

How familiar are you with the different sunflower varieties? Seed Savers <www.seedsavers.org> offers 20 varieties, Seeds of Change <www.seedsofchange.com offers another 15 or so. Those are just 2 companies I know the URLs to that also have a lot of sunflowers. All of these are open pollinated, there are probably some hybrids available from other seed companies.

After reading your first post on the subject, I would hazard a guess that the original seeds were hybrids, and your second generation volunteers were like one of the parents. I suspect what you're seeing isn't a mutant, but just recessive traits expressing themselves in the second and third generations.
If they continue to bred true, you might have something new, or you may find you have recreated an old variety.
Penelope
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Evelyn McHugh wrote:

There are a lot of seed and plant swapping websites out there e.g www.seedsavers.org, www.gardennut.com, even ebay etc You could try your hand at selling or swapping them for some more goodies
Conor
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Evelyn McHugh wrote:

There are a lot of seed and plant swapping websites out there e.g www.seedsavers.org, www.gardennut.com, even ebay etc You could try your hand at selling or swapping them for some more goodies
Conor
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Evelyn McHugh wrote:

There are a lot of seed and plant swapping websites out there e.g www.seedsavers.org, www.gardennut.com, even ebay etc You could try your hand at selling or swapping them for some more goodies
Conor
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Related Threads

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.