Proud sunflower. Helianthus or sunflowers is a genus of plants comprising about 70 species in the family Asteraceae. The genus is one of many in the Asteraceae that are known as sunflowers. Except for three species in South America, all Helianthus species are native to North America. The common name, 'sunflower,' also applies to the popular annual species Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower. This and other species, notably Jerusalem artichoke (H. tuberosus), are cultivated in temperate regions as food crops and ornamental plants.