How a weed once scorned became the flower of the hour

The gaudy sunflower is the ornament of the Nineties, turning up everywhere and on everything, including baseball players' faces

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Sunflowers are all the rage these days, but it's not the first time. They were very big in Europe more than a century ago as a ubiquitous symbol of the Aesthetic movement. It was the Spanish conquistadors who "discovered" sunflowers in North America and took them back to Europe. Russian immigrants brought hybrid seeds to the plains of Manitoba in the 1870s, but they weren't cultivated in a big way in the United States until the 1960s. In recent years they have become increasingly popular as food for birds and people, as a source of cooking oil, as decorations on everything from shirts to greeting cards to umbrellas, and as marketing motifs for fragrances, wine and cereal.

Sunflowers are also making a serious bid to replace tobacco as the professional baseball player's chew of choice. One relief pitcher has even improvised a bit of sunflower goofiness that adds a whole new dimension to the game. He has discovered that if he pries open sunflower-seed hulls slightly, he can pinch them to his skin. So he occupies his idle hours in the bull pen by putting them all over his face.

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