Helianthus: Flowers of the Sun

For Susan J.

There is something so happy and hopeful about sunflowers. We grew our first “crop” quite by accident when my then three-year-old spilled a bag of squirrel food. We scooped up most of it and brushed the rest into the dirt. Nature took over and by summer’s-end we had two tall sunflowers and a few pumpkins, all volunteers from the seed scatter.

I read today that “Campaigners in Japan are asking people to grow sunflowers said to help decontaminate radioactive soil, in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed March’s massive quake and tsunami.” What a hopeful, practical and wonderful gesture towards a happier, healthier Japan.

According to SunflowerGuide.com “The default direction of the sunflower head is to point east towards sunrise (the location of the sun when it rises over the horizon in the morning.) During the day motor cells in the sunflower stem tilt the flower bud to try to receive a maximum amount of sunlight. By evening, the sunflower head is pointing west, towards sunset (the location of the sun on the horizon just before it is no longer visible.) This causes the sunflower to basically trace a 180 degree arc, tracking the sun’s position throughout the day, from horizon to horizon, sunrise to sunset.

Overnight, the sunflower will reset to its original eastward positioning and wait for the morning, ready to follow the sun’s path once again.

Once blooming however, sunflowers no longer exhibit heliotropic behaviour, and the stem is generally frozen into an eastward-facing position.” Fascinating!

Space for the sunflower, bright with yellow glow, To court the sky. - Caroline Gilman, To the Ursulines

10 thoughts on “Helianthus: Flowers of the Sun

  1. I love them.. during the summer we moved to Midland, Texas we drove up the “Big Lake” road, and through field after field of sunflowers.. it was amazing to see as we topped a hill and looked down upon all of the acres of sunflowers. Another interesting, but unrelated, item, as we drove through these fields in July the tarantulas were “crossing the road” which apparently is a regular July event… there were literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of tarantulas crossing the highway. There was no way not to hit them… Someone told me they were males looking for new mates… I don’t know, it was just kind of eerie…


  2. Kkimpel, what a sight, on both counts! I’ve had one tarantula cross my path on a spring-time hike, and was amazed at how slowly they move. I hope to see a field of sunflowers as you describe one day. I’m sure I would never forget it.


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  4. If I’m lucky enough to own a garden again (-vs- a condo), I will plant these just to watch them ‘watch the sun’. That mother nature, she doesn’t miss a thing. PS. Can you imagine getting a flat on that tarantula highway, I would simply go bonkers.


    • If you have a sunny patch, you can plant them in pots. They’re an annual so they don’t have deep roots. Maybe you could put three to a pot and have the pots at the end of your walkway. Does it get full sun?


      • I didn’t even think of a pot, I could put one on the patio! It’s not all day sun but pretty sunny till 11 am or so. Faces north. I wonder how long they take to tall up? Our growing season ends late August, September can be pretty nice, but mixed bag with cool evenings.


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