There is just something inherently sunny and hopeful about sunflowers. With their sunny, yellow heads standing tall, they can seem to be smiling at you.
For thousands of years, people from all over the world have planted, grown, harvested, eaten, and gifted sunflowers for a variety of reasons and occasions, a tradition that continues to this day.
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An Overview of the Sunflower Plant
The sunflower belongs to the Helianthus annus family, its scientific name literally translating from the Greek words for “sun” and “flower.” It is an annual herb that blooms in the summer and fall.
The sunflower is known for its ability to turn toward the sun rising in the east because its stem grows at night on the west side, allowing the head of the flower to bend toward the east during the day. Thus, when you watch sunflowers in a field, you can see them gently swaying in the wind as they arch toward the morning sun.
As far as we know, the sunflower was first cultivated by the Native American people, making the sunflower native to North America. About 4,500 years ago, the indigenous people harvested sunflowers from their original bushy form and trained them to grow upright. They can now grow up to 30 feet tall under the right circumstances.
The flowers were then harvested by the Native Americans to make seed oil, seed flour, and seeds just for snacking.
The plant was exported to the Old World in the 1500s during colonization when Europeans began bringing American plants and animals back to their countries. From there, the sunflower spread across Europe and into Asia where it has thrived ever since.
The sunflower has also been used for nutrition and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Native Americans used the sunflower to treat kidneys, chest pains, and pulmonary issues.
The seed and the sprout of this herb are the most commonly eaten parts, and they are now known to contain antimicrobial, antioxidant, antihypertensive, and anti-inflammatory properties. The sunflower is used for wound-healing, and its polyphenols and flavonoids protect the heart.
Science tells us that eating sunflower seeds regularly can help lower rates of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Rich in vitamins and minerals, lovely to look at, and easy to grow and maintain in your garden, the sunflower is a true gift to humanity.
What Does a Sunflower Plant Symbolize?
The most powerful mythology around the sunflower involves the Greek God Apollo, or Helios as he is called in Roman mythology.
It is said that the water nymph Clytie was madly in love with the god of the sun, but he was not interested in her affection. His refusal to be with her drove Clytie insane and she wandered endlessly, searching for him in the sky, with no food or water for nourishment.
In the end, the gods turned her into a sunflower, forever searching the sky, chasing the sun, looking for her beloved.
From that time, sunflowers have symbolized lasting love, passion, emotions of the heart, and endless hope.
For the Chinese, the sunflower is a symbol of luck, health, and longevity.
The Incas, the native people in South America, long used the sunflower to represent their sun god, and they wear it on their clothing and weave it into their sacred ceremonies of worship.
Does Giving a Sunflower Plant as a Gift Have Meaning?
Today, the sunflower signifies hope, cheer, joy, peace, and happiness across the world. Thus, giving the sunflower as a gift can mean any of these things.
You can give a bouquet of sunflowers to cheer someone up who has been sad.
Another option would be to gift someone with a sunflower plant to put in their garden, either to grow in the ground along a fence line or in a pot. This type of gift is great for someone throwing a housewarming party, welcoming a new family member, like a new baby or a new spouse, or someone starting on a new journey in life.
You can even offer to help them plant the sunflower as a sort of hopeful ritual and shared memory.
Do Sunflower Plants Help with Feng Shui?
Much like in Chinese culture, the sunflower in feng shui represents good fortune and happiness.
You can place the sunflower in a pot right outside your door, or you can bring cut sunflowers into your home and place them in vases around the home to bring a balance of positive energy. The flower was meant to grow outdoors, under the full sun, but the cut version or even pictures or paintings can still hold the feng shui energies you might want in your home.
Do Artificial Sunflower Plants Look Real and Do They Maintain Their Symbolism?
While you likely won’t buy an artificial sunflower plant in a pot because the plant won’t grow indoors, you can absolutely buy fake cut stems of sunflowers and place them in vases around your home. You can find high-quality, artificial sunflowers that look just like the real thing.
Some people have allergies and some just don’t want the trouble of caring for or have the time to care for growing sunflowers. In that case, you should invest in artificial sunflowers and bring a bit of that sunshine indoors. You won’t be sorry if you do.
But wait. Are fake flowers even on trend? To help you figure this out, check out my article on whether artificial plants and flowers are tacky.
How about you? Do you love sunflowers? What does the sunflower mean to you? Let me know in the comments.