With their cheerful faces and colorful petals, you just can’t help but smile when you see a sunflower. Long a favorite subject of artists from van Gogh to Gauguin to WeiWei, sunflowers hold symbolic meaning in many cultures. To the Incans, the flowers symbolized the powerful Sun God. To the Victorians, they signified adoration (or haughtiness). And in the U.S., sunflowers are often given on a third wedding anniversary. These happy plants have many medicinal and culinary uses, too. Read on to learn more about these beautiful and fascinating flowers in our comprehensive guide to sunflower facts.
25 Amazing Facts About Sunflowers
1) Sunflowers are heliotropic, which means their faces tilt slightly to follow the sun.
This helps aid in photosynthesis and in attracting pollinators. The heliotropism usually ends when plants mature; most stand facing the east.
2) Helianthus are native to the Americas
More than 65 species are native to Central and North America, while three species are native to South America.
3) People have cultivated sunflowers since 3000 BC
They’ve long been valued for their seeds, to make yellow, purple, or black dye, and for their medicinal uses.
4) The sunflower is the Kansas state flower
H. annuus, the common sunflower, is native to the plains states and is the Kansas state flower. Kansas is known as the “Sunflower State.”
5) The Ancient Inca associated sunflowers with the Sun God
The ancient Inca associated sunflowers with the sun god, and religious officiants wore sunflowers on their ceremonial clothing.
6) The Spanish took sunflowers back to Europe
When the Spanish conquistadors colonized the Americas, they took sunflowers back to Europe with them. By the 1500s, the flowers had started to spread around the world.
7) The Tsar Peter the Great brought sunflowers to Russia from the Netherlands.
Unlike most other types of cooking oil, the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t ban sunflower oil for use during Lent, so the plants quickly grew popular. By the 1800s, over 2 million acres of sunflowers were planted across the region.
8) Sunflowers were deeply symbolic in the Victorian Flower Language
In the Victorian language of flowers, a gift of small sunflowers symbolizes adoration, while a gift of tall sunflowers may indicate haughtiness. Today, a gift of sunflowers is more likely to send a message of happiness, friendship, joy, and loyalty.
9) In Chinese culture, sunflowers stand for good luck.
They make perfect graduation flowers and celebrate personal and professional accomplishments. Sunflowers are considered highly auspicious, and the color yellow is often associated with intelligence and vitality. The flowers also stand for longevity, perhaps because ancient Chinese royalty associated the sunflower with immortality.
10) Sunflower’s name originates from the Greek language
Sunflower’s name comes from the Greek for “sun,” or helios, and “flower,” or anthos.
11) Sunflowers figure in the Greek legend of Clytie and Apollo
Clytie was jealous of Apollo’s new love interest, Leucothoe, so she tattled to Apollo’s father, who buried Leucothoe. Apollo turned her into a sunflower so she could watch his chariot move across the sky every day.
12) Sunflowers were a favorite subject for artist Vincent van Gogh
His 12 sunflower paintings are among his most famous works. He created the paintings in France between 1887 and 1889 and referred to sunflowers rather possessively as his own artistic signature. Van Gogh’s love of sunflowers inspired his artist friend Paul Gauguin to paint “The Painter of Sunflowers,” an image of van Gogh creating, you guessed it, his sunflower paintings.
13) Van Gogh and Gauguin aren’t the only painters to feature sunflowers.
Diego Rivera incorporated the flowers into several works, such as “Muchacha con Girasoles.” And Ai Weiwei’s 2020 work “Sunflower Seeds” consists of millions of porcelain seeds — all handmade — together weighing more than 10 tons.
14) Sunflowers can reach 30 feet tall
The tallest known sunflower measured more than 30 feet tall. It was grown in Germany in 2014.
15) Each sunflower head contains thousands of tiny ray florets.
Together, they look like one large flower head.
16) Each sunflower can produce up to 2,000 seeds
Black seeds are oily and used to make cooking oil and nut butters. Gray seeds are less oily and are used as snacks for humans, in bird seed, and in animal feeds.
17) Ukraine is the largest producer of sunflower seed oil
It takes about 100 pounds of black sunflower seeds to produce 40 pounds of oil. Ukraine is the world’s largest producer of sunflower seed oil.
18) Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamin D
Many supplements contain sunflower oil. The seeds are also a source of other nutrients such as vitamins A and E, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium.
19) Sunflower oil has anti-inflammatory properties
It contains linoleic acid, often used in skin treatments. Studies also indicate that the polyunsaturated fats in sunflower oil are a heart-healthy choice.
20) Sunflowers thrive when they receive six to eight hours of sun each day
Sunflowers also need plenty of space to grow. If they’re planted too close together, they’ll compete for resources and won’t grow as robustly.
21) Sunflowers typically bloom from June through September
In most regions of the U.S., the growing season for sunflowers stretches from June through September. Most varieties bloom in summer, though some produce blossoms in late summer through fall.
22) The 70 species of sunflowers are diverse in size
The smallest, dwarf varieties like ‘Elf’ grow to only about 16 inches tall with 4-inch flower heads. The tallest varieties, like the ‘American Giant,’ can grow to 16 feet tall with flower heads reaching 12 inches in diameter.
23) Sunflowers bloom in a range of colors
While many are that archetypal sunny yellow, other varieties range from white, gold, rust and orange, and even deep ruby red. Some varieties even boast multiple colored blooms.
24) Sunflower plants have a unique ability to absorb toxins from the earth
After nuclear accidents, such as Japan’s 2011 Fukushima incident and the 1986 Chornobyl meltdown, sunflowers were planted in millions around the site. It turns out that the flowers, along with other plants such as amaranth and field mustard, are great at absorbing radiation.
25) Sunflowers are easy to grow.
Just provide them with full sun, enough space, and the right amount of water for their needs and watch them grow! Consider extending the flowering period by planting seeds in weekly intervals or choosing various types that flower at different times.
Sunflower Facts – The Final Word
Sunflowers may be best known for their cheerful, nodding, yellow heads that follow the sun across the sky. But these happy flowers have much to offer, from health benefits to a cleaner environment. Of course, they’re also a great way to send a message of cheer, friendship, and joy.