Italian White Cucumberleaf Sunflower
If Italian White sunflowers (Helianthus debilis ssp. cucumerifolius 'Italian White') had steamer trunks, they would be covered with stickers from exotic locales. No one is quite sure who first took seeds of a creamy, white-flowered variant of the southeastern Texas annual sunflower to Europe, or how it made its way to Italy—where it thrived. What we do know is that Italian immigrants brought the seeds back with them to the northeastern United States (primarily) when they emigrated.
Creamy white petals surround a dark-brown center on 3- to 4-foot plants that sometimes have purplish blotches on the stem. Like other sunflowers, this cultivar thrives in full sun with adequate fertilization and well-drained soil. Sunflowers of all kinds are beloved by a number of species of native (and exotic) birds; perhaps the most colorful are goldfinches. Thousands of acres of sunflowers are planted annually, worldwide, for oil production. Although the plant is a native of the United States, sunflower oil was first produced in Imperial Russia in 1835. The oil has been used for food, frying oil, in cosmetics, and to protect the skin of premature infants from infections.