With their dark, seed-studded centers surrounded by a fringe of sunny yellow petals, sunflowers spread cheerful goodwill as they follow the sun across the sky. But did you know these 10 fascinating sunflower facts?
1. Sunflowers Are Native To North America
Sunflowers grow in the center of North America, from the Canadian plains provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan to the high plains of the American Midwest. While Kansas is known as the Sunflower State, North Dakota currently produces the most sunflowers in the United States. And the sunny blooms honored as the state flower in Kansas are considered noxious weeds across the border in Iowa.
2. Crop Sunflowers Are Not The Same As Wild Sunflowers
Whether you associate sunflower fields with Kansas, North Dakota, or a Canadian province, the sunflowers planted as crops are not the same as wild sunflowers. Cultivated sunflowers are annuals that typically bloom from mid-August through mid-September. Wild sunflowers are perennials that bloom throughout the summer in open fields and along roadsides.
Related Article: A Guide to Kansas Wildflowers by Season: Spring, Summer, and Fall
3. Native Americans Used Sunflowers In Several Ways
With roughly 1,000 seeds per bloom, one of the most common ways Native Americans used sunflowers was for food. Sunflower seeds were toasted and eaten as a snack or dried and ground into flour. The oil extracted from sunflowers was also an important source of fat for Native Americans since most of their protein sources were low in this important nutrient.
Sage Advice: Made from roasted sunflower seeds, sunflower seed butter is an alternative to peanut butter or almond butter that’s perfect for people with nut allergies.
Additionally, indigenous people used sunflowers as medicine. The sticky juice oozing from a freshly cut sunflower stalk was applied to everything from cuts and scrapes to snake bites, creating a type of wound dressing.
As we use sunflowers for art, fashion, and home decor today, so did Native Americans. They used the brightly colored flower petals to decorate pottery, dye textiles, and create body paint for religious ceremonies.
4. In Addition To Their Other Benefits, Sunflowers Are Good For The Environment
Sunflowers aren’t just another pretty face or a simple food source. They also help clean up environmental disasters. Fields of sunflowers have successfully removed toxins like lead, arsenic, and uranium from contaminated soil. Recent examples include the devastating nuclear disasters in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Fukushima, Japan.
5. Bees Love Sunflowers
When you plant sunflowers, you also help save the bees. The buzzing insects pollinate the flowers while infusing its sunny taste in their honey.
6. Sunflowers Aren’t Always Yellow
While the sunny petals of yellow sunflowers are most common, there are more than 60 sunflower varieties. Sunflower petals range from the cream-colored Italian white sunflower to the deep crimson of the Moulin Rouge sunflower. There are also ombre petals like the Ring of Fire sunflower variety that is deep red near the center and bright yellow at the tips.
7. Vincent Van Gogh Wasn’t The Only Artist Inspired By Sunflowers
While Vincent van Gogh’s series of ceramic vases bursting with sunflower stems are likely the most famous paintings of the sunny flowers, they’ve also inspired other artists. In The Painter of Sunflowers, Paul Gauguin captured van Gogh painting his famous still life. In Girl with Sunflowers, Mexican artist Diego Rivera captured a young woman arranging a bouquet of sunflowers. And while Austrian painter Gustav Klimt is best known for his sensual The Kiss, featuring a couple embracing beneath a sunflower yellow quilt with black, seed-like accents, The Sunflower features a tall, single sunflower stalk surrounded by colorful wildflowers.
8. Sunflowers Can Vary In Height
The fields that draw photographers and Instagrammers in the late summer are planted with sunflower varieties whose stalks reach five to 12 feet in height. However, dwarf sunflowers rarely top three feet, making them perfect to plant in pots or grow indoors.
Fun Fact: The world’s tallest sunflower was grown in Germany, where it reached a height of more than 30 feet!
9. Sunflowers Follow The Sun
As the sun makes its way across the sky each day, the sunflower’s face tracks its progress. Once the flower has fully matured, it remains fixed on the eastern horizon.
Fun Fact: The French word for sunflower is tournesol, which means “turns with the sun.”
10. Sunflowers Are Symbolic
Few blooms brighten your day quite like sunny sunflowers. In addition to bringing cheer, sunflowers are a symbol of good luck and longevity in many cultures.
What’s Your Favorite Sunflower Fact?
Do you have a fun fact about sunflowers not included above? Share it with me in the comments section below.