The sunflower, with its tall stem and big, sunny face, is probably one of the most recognized flowers in the world. It’s been used as a symbol for deities, of summer, and of various environmental movements. Though native to the Americas, the seeds of the sunflower have migrated around the world and planted themselves in the soil and hearts of many countries. It’s prized not only for its friendly beauty, but because just about every part of the sunflower can be used for something.

Lots of Tiny Flowers… And Seeds

The familiar overlapping petals of the sunflower–usually yellow, but also sometimes pink or other colors–are actually what is called the flower head. The inner part of this flower head is where the real flowers of the plant reside–hundreds of small flowers covering a circle; most of these flowers mature into the famous sunflower seeds. The seeds of the sunflower make a great snack, but they are also pressed into an oil that is used in cooking. The fibrous stems of the plant sometimes find their way into the production of paper, while the leaves are sometimes an ingredient in cattle feed. Ancient people knew that the sunflower, for all its beauty, is also a very useful flower. Florists know that it’s also a popular summer flower for arrangements.

Sun Followers … Or Not

The scientific name for the sunflower is Helianthus annuus and, in times past (and among some today) was thought to always keep its face toward the sun. A lovely thought, this, but it’s apparently not true. It’s interesting that, according to growers, sunflowers in an open field will face east, or the rising sun–but they do not track the sun across the sky, ending facing the western sunset.

A Happy, Haughty Bloom

Victorians thought the sunflower signified a bit of pride, possibly because the taller varieties loom over most individuals. They also thought that, in the language of flowers, sunflowers symbolized appreciation and gratitude. As most local florists will tell you, though, these days the sunflower is thought of more as an energetic, happy flower, that brings joy. Yellow is a happy color, after all, though if you prefer another for your bouquet, experts in your floral marketplace can help with that.