It was Earth Day a couple Saturdays ago and in celebration I posted the above pic of a Mexican Sunflower – botanical name tithonia diversifolia – on my Instagram page. Mexican sunflower is also sometimes referred to as “tree marigold”. I received a cutting from Andromeda Botanic Gardens last year when I took part in their Let’s Get Growing Barbados organic gardening course. One year later, the flowers have finally started to bloom. I don’t think they should have taken that long – Mexican sunflowers are supposed to have a rapid growth rate. I notice that many plants either take a long time to bloom or tend to remain “dormant” in our garden – the soil I believe is not the most conducive to many plants and flowers, it tends to be more chalky and calcium-rich, and probably needs a bit of nutritional support and fertilization.
Mexican sunflower leaves actually make the perfect natural, “green” fertilizer. They are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, raise the fertility of soils depleted in nutrients, and are a great, affordable alternative to synthetic fertilizer. The ladies of Andromeda Gardens were also kind enough to provide us with a sample of natural Mexican Sunflower leaf fertilizer to take home as part of the course. As they explain in the course it’s quite easy to make this fertilizer on your own using just leaves and water. The leaves and the twigs can also be left to decompose on or incorporated into certain crops and plants that need a boost.
I believe the nutrient-rich properties of the leaves could also have certain uses for skin care, and I hope to learn more about this. The more commonly known sunflower plant helianthus annuus that originates from North America, and from which we get sunflower seed oil, is already widely used in beauty products and nutritional supplements. It is rich in Vitamin E, Omega 6 and other essential fatty acids.
The Mexican Sunflower is native to eastern Mexico and central America, but it has been introduced and widely distributed as a species throughout many tropical countries. The bright, yellow flowers of the Mexican Sunflower smell mildly like a cross between chocolate and honey! Here in Barbados the flowers seem to be used mainly as an ornamental – a Mexican Sunflower shrub can grow up to four to six feet. But in Brazil and parts of Africa the plant is more fully utilized in agriculture, particularly for rice and maize crops, and to control soil erosion.