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Sunflower Meaning: Ancient Incas to Modern Weddings

Sunflower meaning goes deep into ancient history. The most fundamental sunflower meaning is adoration. This meaning is derived from the fact that sunflowers turn their heads to face the sun. A secondary meaning is good fortune or good luck.

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 celebrations.

Sunflower Meaning Single Sunflower

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.

Sunflower Meaning Table of Contents

Sunflower Meaning

Sunflower Meaning 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.

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Sunflower Meaning

Sunflower Meaning in Ancient Times

The scientific name of the common sunflower is the helianthus annuus. Sunflowers belong to the genus helianthus. “Heli” is a reference to Helios, the sun god of the ancient Greeks. “Anthus” is the Greek word for “flower.” The word “anuus” means “Annual” or a flower that returns every year.

Helios was said to drive a chariot pulling the sun across the sky from east to west each day. The counterpart of Helios is Hestia (known as Vesta by the Romans), goddess of hearth, home and family. Both Helios and Hestia are associated with fire and flames. 

From his lofty position in the sky, Helios could see all things on earth. Thus he was believed to be omniscient. To swear by Helios or take his name in an oath was deeply binding.

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Sunflower Meaning Photo

Sunflower Meaning in Modern 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.”

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Sunflower Meanings Alternate

An Alternate Sunflower Meaning 

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.

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Sunflowers in a Field Symbolism

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. This poem has also been set to music.

Excerpt below:

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.

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Van_Gogh_Sunflower Meaning

Sunflower Meaning 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.

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Sunflower Meaning and Get Well Gifts

Sunflowers as Get Well Gifts

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 pure and simple reminder of the source of life and all that is good in life.

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Sunflower Color Meaning

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!

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.

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Sunflower Meaning Get Well Gifts

The Amazing Size of Sunflowers

Wild sunflowers have multiple stems and more than one head, while the flower heads are usually smaller than what we are now 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).

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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.

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Sunflowers As a Food Source & Other Uses

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. In addition, 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.

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Growing Beautiful 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.

For best, results growing sunflowers, 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. Sunflowers should not be grown in grassy areas as the seeds will kill surrounding grass when they fall to the ground.

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. 

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A Musical Meditation on the Beauty of Sunflowers

This video features a slideshow of beautiful photographs of sunflowers and dahlias accompanying a simple song dedicated to God as the Holy Spirit symbolized by breath or wind, fire and water. Additional songs can be found on the Music page.


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Sunflower Meaning

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Author Kathleen Karlsen

Kathleen Karlsen is a musician, artist, writer and speaker. She is the author of two books (Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine) and over 200 articles. Kathleen, her husband Andrew and their five children live in Bozeman, Montana. More about Kathleen Karlsen.

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Sunflowers have an incredible history as food, spiritual symbols and decoration. This article cover sunflower meaning from the Incas to modern day. Learn about sunflower meaning in religion, song and poetry. Explore sunflower meaning for weddings, get well gifts and more. 

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