“Sunflowers are a symbol
to remind us to follow our instinct;
Follow our joy, follow what lights us up.”
~ Avia ~
The sunflower’s name comes from its tendency to reposition itself to face the sun. Its genus, Helianthus, is rooted in two Greek words — “helios” meaning sun and “anthos” meaning flower.
The ancient Greek myth of Apollo and Clytie is one explanation of why sunflowers turn towards the sun. In this story Clytie (a water nymph), 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 her into a flower, but even in flower form she still loved him and would spend her days watching him as he moved the sun across the sky in his chariot, just like sunflowers move to face the sun.
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 Sunflower’s Symbolism & Colours
The sunflower’s yellow colour symbolises vitality, intelligence, and happiness. The colour yellow also traditionally symbolises friendship.
Sunflowers also symbolise worship and faithfulness in various religions because of their resemblance to the sun, which is associated with spiritual knowledge and the desire to seek light and truth.
Sunflowers symbolise adoration, loyalty and longevity. Much of the meaning of sunflowers stems from its namesake, the sun itself.
These flowers are unique in that they have the ability to provide energy in the form of nourishment and vibrancy – attributes which mirror the sun and the energy provided by its heat and light.
Sunflowers are often given on 3rd year wedding anniversaries as signs of adoration, loyalty, and strength.
Because of the myth of Clytie and Apollo, the sunflower most commonly means adoration and loyalty. However, sunflower meanings can vary across cultures:
- The sunflower is also a symbol of Daphne (another Greek nymph).
- In China, 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. The sunflower was considered a symbol of long life, and was eaten by royalty to ensure 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.
- To the Native American People, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- As a yellow flower, the sunflower can be compared to the solar-plexus chakra (Manipura). This chakra (and its colour) governs intellect, and is a central force of perception as well as self-awareness and personal evolution.
Sunflower Cultural Significance
Sunflowers have also been used by countless artists. The most well-known portrayal of sunflowers is Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflower series, first executed in Paris in 1887, which includes Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, Two Cut Sunflowers, and Four Cut Sunflowers.
Ai WeiWei was also inspired by the flowers in his Sunflower Seeds exhibit, an installation of millions of porcelain seeds handcrafted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in China, symbolising the relationship between the individual and the masses.
Quick Facts about Sunflowers
- The Sunflower is the only flower with flower in its name!
- “Helianthus” is the scientific name of Sunflower, Helia for Sun and Anthus for Flower.
- Sunflowers are the symbol of faith, loyalty and adoration.
- Sunflowers follow the movement of the sun across the sky from east to west, and this process is known as heliotropism.
- A Sunflower head is made up of 1000 to 2000 individual flowers which are joined at the base. The large petals which are found around the edge are individual ray flowers, which do not develop into seeds.
- The spiral formation of seeds in a sunflower almost always follows the Fibonacci sequence.
- A single sunflower can have up to 2000 seeds.
- Cultivated sunflowers have a single stem and a large seed head, while in wild they are highly branched with small heads and seeds.
- More than 60 varieties of sunflowers are found around the world in different shades. Some varieties also have striped petals.
- Not only we can find different coloured petals, but also their centres vary in different shades.
- Sunflower seeds are found in two ways black and striped.
- Black seeds are used to make oil and snacks are made out of striped seeds.
- Sunflower oil was able to soften leather, condition hair, wounds, and also used as cooking oil, medicine paint, animal feed and bio-diesel.
- The oil of the Sunflower is rich in minerals like calcium and iron and contains vitamin A and Vitamin D.
- The Sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine, and is the state flower of Kansas.
- Sunflowers are one of the fastest growing plants and they grow tall. On an average they grow up to 8-12 feet within six months.
- The Guinness World Record for the tallest sunflower is 25 feet 5 ½ inches, grown by M Heijims in Oirschot, Netherlands in1986.
- Bonsai technique was used to make the shortest mature sunflower record with 2 inches in height.
- The Sunflower with largest flower head is 32 ¼ inches in diameter (measured from the outer tip of the petal on one side to the outer tip of the petal on the opposite side), was grown by Emily Martin in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada in 1983.
- 837 flowers were grown on a single plant by Melvin Hemker in Saint Charles, Mi. in 2001.
Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
The sunflower became the mystic symbol of several early civilisations, notably the Incas who worshipped the sun. The North American Indians used the leaves as animal food, the petals were brewed into a distinctive yellow dye for their clothes and skin and the seeds were ground into food and crushed into oil.
Benefits of Sunflower seeds are rich in the B complex vitamins, which are essential for a healthy nervous system, and are a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, protein and vitamin E. They also contain trace minerals, zinc, manganese, copper, chromium and carotene as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids – types of ‘good’ fat that may help to protect the arteries.
Try them High in protein and low in carbohydrates, sunflower seeds make the ideal pick-me-up tasty snack.
Keep your face to the sunshine
and you cannot see the shadows.
It’s what the sunflowers do.
~ Helen Keller ~