Several independent molecular genetic linkage maps of varying density and completeness have been constructed for cultivated sunflower ( Helianthus annuus L.). Because of the dearth of sequence and probe-specific DNA markers in the public domain, the various genetic maps of sunflower have not been integrated and a single reference map has not emerged. Moreover, comparisons between maps have been confounded by multiple linkage group nomenclatures and the lack of common DNA markers. The goal of the present research was to construct a dense molecular genetic linkage map for sunflower using simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers. First, 879 SSR markers were developed by identifying 1,093 unique SSR sequences in the DNA sequences of 2,033 clones isolated from genomic DNA libraries enriched for (AC)(n) or (AG)(n) and screening 1,000 SSR primer pairs; 579 of the newly developed SSR markers (65.9% of the total) were polymorphic among four elite inbred lines (RHA280, RHA801, PHA and PHB). The genetic map was constructed using 94 RHA280 x RHA801 F(7) recombinant inbred lines (RILs) and 408 polymorphic SSR markers (462 SSR marker loci segregated in the mapping population). Of the latter, 459 coalesced into 17 linkage groups presumably corresponding to the 17 chromosomes in the haploid sunflower genome ( x = 17). The map was 1,368.3-cM long and had a mean density of 3.1 cM per locus. The SSR markers described herein supply a critical mass of DNA markers for constructing genetic maps of sunflower and create the basis for unifying and cross-referencing the multitude of genetic maps developed for wild and cultivated sunflowers.