Meaning of a Sunflower in History and Art

Sunflower Meaning

The meaning of a sunflower in general terms is adoration. This meaning is derived from the fact that sunflowers turn their heads to the sun. Sunflowers have held great spiritual significance as far back as the Incas. Read more about the history of this beautiful flower below. Find out why a sunflower is the perfect choice for get well gifts and joyful celebrations.

Meaning of Sunflower Botanical Name

Sunflowers belong to the genus helianthus, a reference to Helios, the sun god. Sunflowers are known the world around as one of the most joyous and flamboyant flowers. They are growing rapidly in popularity as cut flowers for bouquets and arrangements as well as garden flowers.

Meaning of a Sunflower to the Incas

The Inca Indians worshipped the sunflower as a symbol of the sun. Their priestesses wore necklaces of sunflowers made of gold. Spanish explorers took sunflowers back to Spain, where they were cultivated and hybrids were created.

Eventually, sunflowers were brought to America with European explorers. Native Americans, however, already had their own sunflowers in cultivation along the shores of Lake Huron.

Meaning of a Sunflower for Celebrations

Sunflowers are always big and bold—just what you may need to send a hearty congratulations for a graduation, a feat accomplished, a new job or a successful endeavor. Think about a stunning sunflower bouquet for celebrating a big event.

And don’t forget that the central meaning of sunflowers is adoration! Send something different and meaningful for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or a special birthday. Sunflowers will always say “I adore you.”

Another Meaning of a Sunflower

Cultivated sunflowers can reach an incredible twenty feet in height. Sunflowers are one of the fastest growing plants in the world, increasing in height up to one foot a day. These lofty heights have resulted in the sunflower being symbolic of haughtiness as well as adoration.

Sunflower Meaning in Song and Poetry

Sunflowers have been celebrated in poetry and song for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. One of the most famous songs referencing sunflowers is “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms” by the poet Thomas Moore: “…the heart that has truly loved never forgets, But as truly loves on to the close, As the sunflower turns on her god, when he sets, The same look which she turned when he rose.”

Meaning of a Sunflower in Art

Smaller sunflower varieties are often used as cut flowers for bouquets and flower arrangements. The most famous series of paintings by artist Vincent Van Gogh is his series of sunflowers in vases. The simplicity of the sunflower form makes it a perfect chose for art projects with children. The stunning sunflower is a natural choice for home decor and crafts.

Meaning of a Sunflower for a Get Well Gift

Those who are recovering from illness will also appreciate the powerful rays of sunshine that uplift a room through a flower arrangement featuring sunflowers. Sunflowers are a reminder of the source of life and all that is good in life.

The cheerfulness and warmth of sunflowers are perfect for a bright bouquet of flowers to set the tone in a new home or office. Sunflowers are hard to miss in any room and go with most decors. Make a strong statement with a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers!

Sunflower Colors

Sunflowers have recently been bred to produce shorter varieties for garden use. The petals were originally quite small and irregular, so efforts have also been made to increase the size and number of petals.

Some double petal varieties have also been created as well as variations in the color of the center (brown to black) and even of the petals (honey, beige, pinkish cream, soft yellow, pale russet). Read more about yellow flower color meaning. Learn about other flower color meanings.

Meaning of Sunflowers
Meaning of a Sunflower
Sunflower Meaning

The Amazing Size of Sunflowers

Wild sunflowers have multiple stems and more than one head, with the heads or flowers usually being smaller than what we are accustomed to seeing. Modern sunflowers have been bred to have a single stem and one large flower. The largest sunflower head ever recorded was 34.5 inches across, grown by Emily Martin of Maple Ridge, Canada in 1983 (Source: Guinness Book of World Records).

Distribution of Sunflowers

In the United States, sunflowers are found in the Midwest prairies as well as roadsides. The sunflower generally grows in scrub land and dry areas. Sunflowers are native to the Americas. They are the state flower of Kansas and the national flower of Russia.

Sunflowers as a Powerful Food

Sunflower seeds are highly edible and are packed with healthy fats, vitamin E, protein, fiber and minerals. Sunflower oil can be used for cooking. Sunflower sprouts can also be eaten and the seed husks can be ground and used as a coffee-like beverage. Sunflowers serve as animal food, too, mainly for cattle and birds.

American settlers used the leaves of sunflowers as fodder for their livestock. The seeds of sunflowers have also been used by Native Americans for blue or black dye and the petals for yellow dye. Fibers from the stalks can be used as cloth.

Growing Sunflowers

Sunflowers need plenty of direct sunlight, but should be sheltered from excessive wind due to the top-heavy flowers that may break the stems in brisk wind. Flower stems should be supported with bamboo stakes wherever possible. The soil should be kept moist and prevented from drying out completely. Plant seeds at a depth of one to two inches.

Sunflowers bloom from July through September. Sunflowers are traditionally bright yellow with a central disk of reddish brown. The head of the sunflower actually consists of 1,000-2,000 individual flowers. Each petal is a ray flower. Sunflowers vary widely in size depending on their adaptive genetic make up, but can reach maximum heights of three to ten feet.

Sunflowers are fully grown in about 90 days. They are attractive to butterflies, bees and birds. Although sunflower seeds can be sown in pots, they will likely need to be replanted in the garden before they reach the flowering stage. Some varieties can grow to have tap roots that are 4’ deep. Sunflowers should not be grown in grassy areas as the seeds will kill surrounding grass when they fall to the ground.

Kathleen Karlsen Book Author

Kathleen Karlsen

Author of Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine

The information in this article has been excerpted from the book Flower Symbols: The Language of Love by Kathleen Karlsen. This book includes ancient and modern flower meanings and folklore about the world’s most beloved flowers. Buy one for a flower lover in your life. Learn to “say it with flowers” for any occasion! 

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