Interesting & Fun Facts About the Sunflower
“I am working with the enthusiasm of a man from Marseilles eating bouillabaisse, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to you because I am busy painting huge sunflowers.”
~ Vincent Van Gogh ~
No flower can lift someone’s spirits quite like sunflowers. They are bright and cheery, and as warm and inviting as the sweet summer sun. With brilliant yellow petals, also known as “rays,” sunflowers have an unmistakable sun-like appearance that has made them a crowd favourite, especially in the summer months.
Sunflowers come in a number of varieties—ranging from small to very large, from having yellow petals to red. However, there is more to sunflowers than meets the eye. While they are stunningly beautiful, they also are rich in history and meaning.
The History of Sunflowers
Sunflowers originated in the Americas in 1,000 B.C., and were then cultivated as a valuable food source for centuries. With the European exploration of the New World, the flower’s popularity spread, as the rest of the world began to appreciate its beauty and sustenance.
Artists throughout history loved the sunflower’s unique splendour—those of the Impressionist era were especially fixated on the flower. The use of sunflower images as religious symbols has also been documented in some native societies.
Sunflower Story & Origins
The sunflower’s name comes from its tendency to reposition itself to face the sun. It’s genus, Helianthus, is rooted in two Greek words — “helios” meaning sun and “anthos” meaning flower.
The sunflower is the Greek symbol of Clytie (a water nymph). Clytie adored Apollo. At first, he loved her back, but soon he fell in love with Leucothoe. Because of her jealousy, Clytie told Leucothoe’s father of the relationship and he punished her by burying her alive.
In anger, Apollo turned Clytie into a flower. The mythological symbolism here is that Clytie (in the form of a sunflower) is always facing the sun, looking for Apollo’s chariot to return and she might be joined again with her love.
The sunflower is also a symbol of Daphne (another Greek nymph).
Sunflower Symbolism & Colours
In esoteric Christianity, the sunflower is a symbol of God’s love. The sunflower as a symbol can also represent the unwavering faith that guides the soul to the highest spiritual attunement. The sunflower was a perfect symbol for the faith because the blossom (bright and bountiful) is always seeking out the light. Symbolically, this is spiritually akin to the heart/soul of humankind always seeking and attaining unity with the light of faith and keeping a connection with the Source/God/Goddess of one’s own understanding.
In Native American symbolism, the sunflower is used in late summer festivals as a symbol of bounty, harvest and provision. It is a symbol of the sun, and thus likened to the life-giving force of the Great Spirit. The colour of the sunflower was noted for its vitality and symbolic of energy as well as fertility.
In Chinese symbolism, the sunflower (and sunflower meaning) deals with long life, good luck and is considered very auspicious. Its yellow colour signifies vitality and intelligence. It’s a symbol of happiness too. Also in China, the sunflower was considered a symbol of long life, and was eaten by royalty to insure immortality.
In Japan which is also called the land of the rising sun, with their worship of the goddess Amaterasu who is the goddess of the sun, it is no wonder that a flower that worships the sun will have such symbolic meaning and grows in abundance there.
The Incas used sunflowers to symbolise the Sun God, and brought them to temples for worship. The priestesses also wore sunflowers on their garments and as crowns.
The sunflower has been used throughout history in many different ways. Sunflowers were originally cultivated by Native Americans, and used for food and medicine. Medicinal uses included using the juice from the stems to treat wounds and infusing the plant in water to treat kidneys and chest pains.
Though sunflowers aren’t typically used medicinally anymore, they are still grown for agricultural purposes. The two main types of sunflower varieties grown are the oil seed type, which has small black seeds, and the non-oil type, which has larger seeds with a thicker hull.
Sunflower oil is used for cooking and in beauty products, and its health benefits include improved heart health and lower cholesterol.
A sunflower field is a paradise for honeybees—two and a half acres [1 ha] of sunflowers may yield from 50 to 100 pounds [25 to 50 kg] of honey. When the sunflower harvest is over, the stalks that remain are between 43 and 48 % cellulose, which is useful in making paper and other products. Leftover parts of the sunflower can serve as silage for livestock or as fertilizer.
We hope that you enjoyed these facts about the sunflower – we will bring you some more interesting and fun facts in a later post, so stay tuned in…