It is believed that Kansas got its nickname "The Sunflower State" because the wild sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is common there. The state's legislature adopted this flower as the state's official flower symbol in 1903. Legend has it that statesman George Morehouse is responsible for the designation of the sunflower as the state's official flower symbol and, by extension, for the use of The Sunflower State as the state's nickname. According to this legend, Morehouse became aware of citizens' affinity for the flower when he observed many of them wearing the blooms at an out-of-state event, as a means of identifying themselves to one another. Though The Sunflower State is now considered Kansas's official state nickname, the state has had a number of other nicknames in the past, most of which reflect either the state's geographical location and attributes, or major events in its history.
The wild native sunflower, also known as the common sunflower, is one of the most common indigenous flowers in the state. This may be partially due to the fact that it is largely cultivated in residential areas and on farms. These flowers, however, can often be seen growing wild throughout the state, and they have been an important source of vegetable oil for residents of the region for thousands of years. Native Americans living in the region now known as Kansas are believed to have been the first to cultivate these flowers. It is believed that their efforts helped to create sunflowers that produce larger, more oily seeds.
People who live in Kansas are said to believe that the sunflower calls to mind the state's frontier history and its vast prairies. The sunflower's seeds are typically used to make sunflower oil, which is useful for a number of purposes. Sunflower oil can be used in cooking and baking, and some people use it as an alternative to fossil fuels. The seeds themselves are often consumed alone as a snack, baked into pastries, or sprinkled on green salads.
Though Kansas's official nickname is now The Sunflower State, other nicknames have predominated in the past, and may still be used by some today. Alternatives to "The Sunflower State" include "Garden of the West," "The Wheat State," "The Cyclone State," and "The Central State," due to Kansas's centralized location in the United States. Some older nicknames tend to refer to important periods in Kansas's history. "The Grasshopper State" for instance, makes reference to the plague of Rocky Mountain locusts that devastated the state's crops in 1874.