Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) as a Mesoamerican domesticate

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (Click here for a list of peer-review pubications and their pdf files).

Origins of Domesticated Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) Project

Map of Mexico

Map of Mexico showing archaeological sites where Helianthus annuus L. remains have been discovered. The modern distribution of wild sunflower is shown in red.

Wild Sunflower

Wild sunflowers (H. annuus) grow as far south as the Transmexican Volcanic Belt in central Mexico. These wild populations may be related to the ancestral source of domesticated sunflowers found in several Mexican archaeological sites.

A family shrine

A family shrine in the Nahua town of Tlalmomacan, Guerrero, Mexico, with food offerings, candles, religious images, and sunflowers (Helianthus annuus L.).

Bag of Sunflower seeds

Bag of sunflower seeds for sale in Puebla. These introduced seeds, mostly from the U.S. and Canada are common in Mexican marketplaces.

Carmen Ortiz Bautista

Otomi informant, Carmen Ortiz Bautista, in her garden near Portezuelo, Hidalgo, Mexico. The Otomi eat toasted sunflower (H. annuus) seeds and use the flowers to decorate their church altars.

A grave site

A grave site in the Nahua town of Tlalmomacan, Guerrero, Mexico with an offering of sunflowers (Helianthus annuus).

Carbonized domestic sunflower

Carbonized domesticated sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) seed from the San Andrés site, Tabasco Mexico. This seed was radiocarbon dated (AMS) to 2875-2575 cal B.C. (Beta 137882).

Sunflower seed drawing

Sunflower seed drawing comparing the sizes of the average seed (A) from the Hayes site in Tennessee; an average wild seed (B) from the first author's collection; the San Andrés seed (C) from Tabasco, Mexico; and an average modern seed from a U.S. supermarket. Dimensions reflect actual sizes. The 7 mm line represents the widely accepted threshold for the difference between wild and domesticated achenes.

Partially carbonized domestic sunflower

Partially carbonized domesticated sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) achene from the San Andrés site, Tabasco Mexico. This achene was radiocarbon dated (AMS) to 2867-2482 cal B.C. (AA33579).


Rararmuri (Tarahumara) farmer with examples of indigenous sunflower

An altar ornamented

An altar ornamented with sunflowers (Helianthus annuus L.) in the Nahua town of Tlalmomacan, Guerrero, Mexico. Ethnohistoric sources suggest this may mirror ancient indigenous religious practices.

Dried Sunflower

Dried sunflower (H. annuus) achenes from the Cueva de Gallo site in Morelos, Mexico, radiocarbon dated (AMS) to 290 - 40 cal B.C.

Banquet Scene

Banquet scene from Sahagún's Florentine Codex showing guests being presented with gifts of tobacco tubes (representing spears) and sunflowers (representing shields) (Dibble and Anderson, 1959).