Do You Know the Meaning of a Sunflower?

For centuries, the sunflower has been the subject of poetry and paintings and many other art forms, but do you know the true meaning of a sunflower? Sunflowers are overwhelmingly positive in their meaning no matter where in the world you may be located. But sunflowers can symbolize many different things depending on your local customs.

Sunflower symbolism

Sunflowers are known as happy flowers. Their large size and vibrant yellow color make them look very much like the sun. Additionally, their coloring gives off a warm glow. Today there are many shades of yellow sunflowers and there are more red and orange sunflowers, reminiscent of sunsets.  But no matter where they are planted, sunflowers turn toward the sun. This turning actually has a name, phototropism, which means growing toward the light. Their heads literally follow the sun across the sky.

This meaning of a sunflower has religious symbolism--that of turning to the light or turning toward God. Sunflowers also are symbols of loyalty and long life. The gift of sunflowers or objects with sunflowers on them are meant to invoke joy and warmth, health and happiness.

Origins of sunflowers

Sunflowers originally grew in the Americas and their known history goes back to around  3000 BC. They were most valued as a food source and not for their appearance or symbolism. For many centuries, sunflowers have always been grown for their seeds and oil. One sunflower can produce as many as 1000 seeds and 40% of its weight in oil.

Today, you can see sunflowers growing everywhere in backyards and gardens, where they serve this same useful purpose as well as being appreciated for their beauty. Historically, sunflowers made their way to Europe in the 1500s and then spread throughout the Far East and Russia. According to folklore, around this time natives of the Americas were seen worshiping sunflowers.

Sunflowers are in the Asteraceae family, which is the same family where you will find daisies.  You can discover over 150 different species of sunflowers around the world. While there are miniature sunflowers which grow only to be three feet tall, most sunflowers are in the 6 to 10 foot range. Some species can even grow to be as high as fifteen feet.

Cultural meanings of sunflowers

The meaning of a sunflower can also come from Greek mythology. There are several myths which tell of nymphs who were in love with gods and for whom the sunflower became part if their symbolism. For instance, it is said that Apollo, the sun god, had a water-nymph who fell in love with him and spent every day staring at the sun. When she was never noticed by Apollo himself, other gods turned her into a sunflower. This is one of the answers to the question of why sunflowers follow the sun’s path.

In a more violent legend, the Titan sun god Helius was loved by a nymph named Clytie. Because he rejected her for Leucothoe (another girl), Clytie told Leucothoe’s father about the relationship. The father, Persian King Orchamus, buried his daughter alive to punish her. But he gave an even worse punishment to Clytie, turning her into a sunflower so that she must turn her head every day to follow the path of Helius, the sun god.

As you can see, the meaning of a sunflower varies among cultures. In China, for instance, they are given as a symbol of long life. In the Americas, sunflower drawings were found in temples. In many countries, sunflowers symbolize adoration, warmth and love. They also stand for peace and are used to represent a world free of nuclear weapons.





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