The Sunflower – Week 6


Sunflowers (Photo By: Michael Lant - Click on image to enlarge)

A Bit About the Sunflower

Dwarf Sunspot, Giant Primrose. Lemon Eclair, Stawberry Blonde, Red Sun, Black Oil. What do all of these descriptive references have in common? They are Sunflowers. My favourite is Teddy Bear – a novelty sunflower with a thick, furry, bright yellow head which actually reminds me of a stuffed teddy. The list of sunflower hybrids totals over 67 varieties, the best known being the Common Sunflower.

My daughter Cleo adores Sunflowers and considers them “her flowers”. She doesn’t care if they are Velvet Queen or American Giant Hybrid, as long as they are big, bright, happy and yellow.  Cleo is a talented artist who has created some wonderful and intricate drawings of the sunflower. Perhaps she was inspired by the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, who immortalized this humble flora with his 1888 – 1889 series of still life oil paintings called Sunflowers (originally titled Tournesols).

Although the sunflower is native to the Americas, it was Russia that was instrumental in bringing about the sunflower that we know today. Evidence shows that well over 1000 years ago, it was a common crop among the American Indian and was used as a symbol of the Solar Deity among the indigenous tribes of North, Central and South America as far back as 3000 BC. In the 16th century the sunflower was discovered in Peru by a Spanish explorer and brought to Europe. Although originally used only for ornamental purposes, by the late 18th century the sunflower had become a very popular cultivated plant used mostly for oil production. Commercialization of the sunflower was greatest in Russia where, by the early 19th century, Russian farmers were growing over 2 million acres for oil and for human consumption.  By the late 1800’s “Mammoth Russian” sunflower seeds were being exported to USA and Canada where it was grown commercially for oil and exported back to Europe. There was also a lot of focus on hybridization of the sunflower – especially in Canada – bringing about the many varieties that we see today.

Sunflower is the genus of Helianthus Annuus – helios for sun and anthos for flower in Latin. It symbolizes loyalty and constancy, adoration and longevity. It is an annual plant and possesses either one large or a number of small “heads”. The head is made of hundreds of small flowers, comprising the brown center. The yellow “petals” are actually leaves that act as protection during the seed development and flowering phases. The small flowers or “florets” in the center are arranged into a series of interconnecting left and right spirals, forming a Fibonacci Sequence. These florets mature into seeds.

I uncovered a great deal of information about the sunflower while reseraching this blog, and it has been very difficult to compress it all into an engaging, concise story. So in the interest of giving you the best story with the least amount of wearisome data, here are a few additional interesting (at least I think they are) facts:

  • The sunflower is popular with monarch butterflies as ideal landing platforms and easy nectaring “stations” along their fall migration path.
  • Sunflowers are Heliotropic and begin their day facing eastward towards the sunrise. By evening the head is pointing west, towards the sunset.  Overnight the head resets to its original positioning awaiting the next days’ sunrise.
  • The sunflower is the national flower of Russia
  • According to the Guiness Book of Records, the tallest sunflower ever grown measured 25 feet 5 ½  inches high. And the largest sunflower head measured 32 ¼ inches across.
  • Sunflower seeds are loaded with calcium and 11 other important minerals. They have 50% polyunsaturated fat.
  • Chocolate covered sunflower seeds are absolutely delicious and come in a range of eye-popping jewel toned colours. A favourite “treat” at our house.

Recipe for Sunflowers in a Box

At the end of the day, this is supposed to be a blog about cut flowers and lovely arrangements. So, having recovered from information overload about the sunflower and its all important contribution as a food source, I have designed a simple arrangement inspired by the fields of sunflowers blooming in August alongside apple orchards and vineyards just outside one of my very favourite destinations, Thornbury, Ontario. This weeks’ design is a combination of miniature sunflowers, as well as yellow yarrow and solidago – both of which can be found growing wild next to the sunflower fields – arranged in a rustic wooden box made of the same materials as the apple crates piled high in the orchards awaiting the upcoming September harvest.


  • 7 miniature sunflowers
  • 5 stems of yarrow
  • 6 – 7 stems solidago (aka goldenrod)
  • 4 – 5” square wooden box, lined with plastic bag to prevent leakage
  • 1 block floral foam, soaked
  • Floral tape
  1. Cut the floral foam to fit into box so it sits just below the top edge. Secure with floral tape.
  2. Trim the first sunflower so it’s finished height, once placed into the floral foam is double the height of the box. Position this stem at the center back of the box, about 1” in from the back edge.
  3. Stagger the rest of the flowers so the last flower is just above the front edge of the box.
  4. Fill in the spaces with solidago and yarrow.

Quote of the week

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. Luther Burbank

Next week: Dahlias

As always, I look forward to your comments


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  1. Posted August 12, 2010 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    I am thoroughly enjoying your well researched blog, stunning arrangements and the professional way in which the flowers are photographed and presented to us each week.

  2. Karen Johnston
    Posted August 11, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m so excited I finally got onto this website you have created. I love it! If you every need and flowers of any kind just drive on up and help yourself. My garden is at its best, and the sunflowers are just starting their display of beauty. Between the butterfly bush and the sunflowers, the butterflies and yellow finches have struck gold. Can hardly wait for your next arrangement. Until then two green thumbs up.

  3. susan armstrong
    Posted August 11, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I have to agree with Cleo, Sunflowers are big, bright, happy – “happy faces” !