Sunflowers. They’re spectacular, summery, and yellower than yellow.
The sunflower, with its tall stem and big, sunny face, is probably one of the most recognised flowers in the world. In fact, let’s be honest, no flower is more famous than the sunflower. It’s the Kim Kardashian of the flower world. They have been used as a symbol for gods, of summer, and of various environmental movements. Though native to the Americas, the seeds of the sunflower have spread around the world and planted themselves in the soil and hearts of many countries. It’s prized not only for its friendly beauty but because just about every part of the sunflower can be used for something.
A brief history of sunflowers
Helianthus is the name of the plant’s genus. It translates perfectly literally from the Greek helios means ‘sun’ and Anthos means ‘flower’ and also because the glorious yellow heads resemble the sun (true), or because of the widespread belief that the blooming heads turn to follow the sun as it tracks across the sky (false, sadly – they face east).
There are in fact over 70 species of helianthus in the family Asteraceae, all native to America. The common sunflower helianthus annus was first brought to Europe in the 16th century, and the seeds and oil have been popular cooking ingredients ever since.
More importantly, of course, sunflowers are beautiful and for hundreds of years have generally made our greyish, rainy island a sunnier place. Not to mention a pretty big muse for old Van Gogh.
Sunflowers were one of the important crops grown in Native American gardens. Some people call sunflowers the “fourth sister,” in reference to the Three Sisters corn, bean, and squash. Sunflower seeds were an important food crop and source of oil for cooking and cosmetics, and different sunflower varieties were cultivated to produce purple and yellow dyes. Sunflower oil was also believed to treat skin ailments, and sunflowers had a variety of medicinal uses in different tribes. Some Native American people also saw sunflowers as a symbol of courage, so that warriors would carry sunflower cakes to battle with them or a hunter would sprinkle sunflower powder on his clothing to keep his spirit up.
The Language of Flowers
Victorians thought the sunflower signified a bit of pride, possibly because the taller varieties loom over most other flowers. They also thought that, in the language of flowers, sunflowers symbolised appreciation and gratitude. So when you get your box next week, think of it as me thanking you for being such lovely customers.
The Sunflowers is one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery. It is the painting that is most often seen on cards, posters, mugs, tea-towels and stationery. It was also the picture that Van Gogh was most proud of. If you’re feeling as sunflowery as I am this week why not go down to the National Gallery and marvel at his wonderful picture!
So there you have it. Sunflowers are not only wonderful to have in your home but also the most versatile flower out there! Just don’t get the urge to chop off your ear when looking at them.