There is nothing quite like sunflowers’ effect. The bright and vibrant flowers seem to always perk up our moods. Something about their shape, size, color and overall appearance never fail to evoke positivity.
Yes, there is more to these summer favorites than just meets the eye. Their origin story that belongs to Greek mythology and their portrayal in many works of art are worth to discover.
Besides, there are many things we can learn from sunflower meanings and symbolisms.
Check out this article and discover the origin of sunflowers, what do sunflowers represent, and what cultural significance they have.
Table of Contents
A. How to Identify Sunflowers
Sunflower characteristics are highly recognized from their large blooms and bright colors. However, they actually come in a number of different sizes and colors.
From small to very large blooms, from the infamous brilliant yellow petals to orange and red ones; different varieties affect the flowers’ look.
Identifying these flowers is fairly easy. They already got such an unmistakable sun-like appearance that is famous all over the world.
The flowers’ stalks grow fearlessly tall and complement the cheery bright petals. Some varieties, such as dwarf sunflowers have shorter stalks, though.
Sunflowers’ petals, in particular, are developed in different sizes. The outer petals or rays are bigger than the inside ones. The center discs contain male and female sex organs where seeds are produced.
B. The Origin Myth of Sunflowers
The sunflower’s name is derived from two words, helios and anthos. Helios means the Sun, while anthos means flower.
A tale that is often told to be the origin of sunflowers comes from Greek Mythology. The tale is mostly centered on Clytie, a water nymph, and Apollo, the Sun God.
Clytie was in love with Apollo. She never gave up a gaze on Apollo even though Apollo didn’t pay much attention to her. However, one day Apollo noticed Clytie and began to love her since. Clytie was overwhelmed, and the two became lovers.
It didn’t last for too long, though. The relationship between the two was over when Apollo fell in love with Leucothoe. Soon after, Apollo and Leucothoe became lovers.
Consumed by jealousy and anger, Clytie told Leucothoe’s father about her daughter’s relationship with Apollo. Leucothoe’s father didn’t seem to be happy with the fact and eventually punished Leucothoe to her death.
Knowing what Clytie had done to his lover, Apollo angrily turned her into a sunflower. Clytie’s adoration and love towards Apollo didn’t change.
In her flower form, Clytie didn’t budge and always gazed up at Apollo while he was moving the sun in his chariot.
C. The History of Sunflowers
While sunflowers’ origin is cited in Greek mythology, they are not necessarily native to ancient Greece. In fact, these flowers are indigenous to the Americas.
In 1,000 BC, Americans cultivated these sunflowers as a source of valuable food. For centuries, they had been using sunflowers for medicine, dye agent, and oil.
When European got to American lands, sunflowers became a popular commodity. They started to spread the flowers across continents, and that might have been the beginning of world’s introduction and adoration to sunflowers’ beauty and sustenance.
D. Sunflower Symbolism and Meaning
Many people love sunflowers for plenty of good reasons. In fact, there are meanings and symbolisms that make these flowers more than just resembling the sun.
One of the sunflower meanings cannot be separated from the story of Clytie and Apollo. Like Clytie, the way sunflowers stretch to follow the sun is often associated with steadfast loyalty, everlasting faith and adoration.
Sunflowers represent happiness and radiance, as these qualities are exuded through their amicable shape and color.The sunflower bright yellow, orange and red colors symbolize the sun.
That’s why, a sunflower bouquet suits to many joyous celebrations including weddings, engagement parties, baby shower, etc.
Some countries see sunflowers to have a specific meaning. In China, sunflowers represent long life, good fortune and vitality. This is especially related to the flower’s ability to endure life. In fact, they can stay hardy for weeks even when they are already cut for vases or bouquet.
Another example is found centuries ago among the Incas. They believed that sunflowers were the representation of the Sun God. According to many literature excerpts, the Incas worshiped these flowers in their temples.
Not only that, as a part of the religious representation, Inca’s priestesses decorated their clothes and crowns with sunflowers.
E. Sunflowers Cultural Significance
Sunflowers also appeared in many works of art. Many notable artists have tried to portray these flowers along with some inspiring symbolisms in it.
Vincent Van Gogh dedicated a series for sunflower, and it became one of the most well-known portrayals of sunflower to date. Among his famous works are Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, Two Cut Sunflowers and Four Cut Sunflowers.
A Chinese artist, Ai WeiWei, exhibited an art installation called Sunflower Seeds, showcasing an installation of millions of uncanny sunflower porcelain seeds.
There are more than 100 millions of hand crafted life-sized sunflowers seed creating an infinite landscape.
Ai WeiWei portrayal of sunflower seeds symbolizes the relationship between the individual and the masses.
There are also authors, and influential figures try to configure certain value through a series of sunflower quotes and symbolisms. Following the cheery and bright nature of the flowers, many sunflower quotes are encouraging and inspiring.
Helen Keller, an American author and political activist, asserted, “Keep your face to the shine, and you cannot see the shadows. It’s what sunflower do.”
Other quotes, this time by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, a dramatist and poet
From Spain avowed, “Light-enchanted sunflower, thou/Who gazest ever true and tender/ On the sun’s revolving splendor.”
F. Interesting Facts about Sunflowers
Besides having a sunny appearance, it’s already been told that these flowers follow the sun movement from East to West.
Is the Clytie’s story really true? Answering the phenomenon, here are some facts about sunflowers.
- These flowers exhibit a unique trait called heliotropism. This common phenomenon among flowers is identified by flower heads facing the sun at all times
- The tallest sunflower plant to ever recorded was a towering 30 feet and 1 inch
- The sunflower seed is rich in calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin D
- They are the only flower to have word ‘flower’ attached to the name.