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Published September 10, 2013, 09:30 AM

East Grand Forks girls grows sunflower more than 10 feet high

When asked what she thought about her sunflower plant, Julianna Peterson said: “Good.” The 6-year-old from East Grand Forks was putting it mildly.

By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald

When asked what she thought about her sunflower plant, Julianna Peterson said: “Good.”

The 6-year-old from East Grand Forks was putting it mildly. When the first-grader is older and her vocabulary has widened, she’ll more likely categorize it as huge or gigantic or even the slangy “ginormous.”

That’s because the sunflower plant was 9 inches tall when it was planted in a flower bed at the family’s north-end home in mid-June. Less than three months later, it is 10½ feet high.

Asked how it happened, Julianna was succinct again: “It growed.”

Vanessa Peterson, Julianna’s mother, had no answer either. There was no help from fertilizer.

“All we did was water it and watch it,” mom said. “Nature pretty much did its own thing.”

Lately, they’ve been watching it in awe, as it has topped the gutters. And, the head’s circumference is almost the size of a basketball. Family members, who also include dad Brian and little brother Riley, eagerly await the bountiful sunflower seeds that are ticketed to become snacks.

“I’m going to bake them in chocolate,” Julianna said.

It all started with a seed in a plastic cup in her kindergarten class at New Heights Elementary. Then it was brought home for further nurturing when school ended. There has been no word of other sunflower mutants from classmates.

Lionel Olson, Grand Forks County extension agent, could shed no light either. He said sunflower hybrids commonly grow to about 6 feet, but plant science can do wonders.

“Without knowing anything about the seed or the genetics, it’s hard to say if it’s a fluke or not,” Olson said. “But 10 feet tall seems awfully big to me.

“As a kid, I tried to grow big pumpkins. Doing that depends on the genetics.”

The plant grew more than one foot in one seven-day stretch, mom said. Ironically, she planted it just three inches from the front entryway steps because “I thought it would need protection from the wind.”

It didn’t, unless a tornado would have blown through the neighborhood.

The Peterson family is saving some of the seeds to plant next spring. Maybe we’ll get an answer to the fluke vs. genetics question a year from now.

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