Sunflower Story

Who wouldn’t like to be cheered by sunflowers along the fence or by the mailbox? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to have a bouquet of sunny faces on their breakfast table, a perfect centerpiece for a big breakfast of eggs and bacon or blueberry waffles?

Sunflowers are growing under our bird feeders, planted by the birds. Our birds like black oil sunflower seeds the very best, much better than the mixed bird seed. They sit on the edge of the feeder cracking seeds held firmly between their feet or hauling them in quick flight to a nearby tree. A lot of seeds fall and then sprout. What a cheerful sight they make! Most years we have a few stalks but they only reach two or three feet. We had one this year that now, as it’s dwindling, is still six feet. It ‘s tall enough to smile in the window at us! Sometimes it’s fun to think the cardinals are considering what an amazing thing they’ve grown, like Jack’s beanstalk.

At the same time ours have been growing our great granddaughter Candi is raising a whole row of sunflowers. She and I have compared sunflower growth along the way, sending pictures back and forth, describing the size of flowers, maybe sometimes with a little fun exaggeration. Ours bloomed first but hers are bigger and there are many more of them. We’ve exchanged fun facts about sunflowers, as well as ideas, legends and such.

Sunflowers were so named, it seems, by Grecians of old. The Greek word “helios” means sun and “anthos” means flower. The name was so appropriate for a flower that turns all day toward the sun.

The name refers to more than a casual resemblance to the sun. Sunflowers actually do absorb and emanate energy. They might be described as some of the first agents of solar energy. In fact, there is an invention called “fake sunflowers,” manmade flowers that turn all day toward the sun thus reproducing energy.

Candi and I have talked about how the sunflowers face east in the morning, then turn toward the sun all day. I remember seeing a large field of sunflowers years ago. I drove past them many times during the flowering season and was amazed to see that they really did all face the sun. But our few are not in such harmony. They usually face different directions, west more often than any. Candi’s, however, really follow the legendary pattern. Consistently, they all face the sun. Supposedly, the flowers follow the sun until it sets in the west, then slowly through the night turn back east to be ready for the sunrise.

We think our sunflowers are not adhering to the directional story because they get very little morning sunshine. I guess they’re confused. Whereas a field of sunflowers “follow the leader” and all turn the same way, our pitiful few have no such firm examples. I love the idea that a row or field of sunflowers can consistently turn faces sunward, just as Christians, led by the Spirit, turn faces Son-ward and remain in harmony like a choir, even turning toward Him during the night times of the soul.

Sunflowers have ever been a source of great fascination. A number of famous artists have repeatedly painted vases of sunflowers and fields or fence rows of them. Monet, Gaugin, Picasso all painted the happy flowers. But the one who seemed most obsessed with sunflowers was Van Gogh, the Dutch artist who moved to France. He persuaded Gaugin to join him at The Yellow House in Arles, France to start an art museum around 1888. Paul Gaugin painted a picture of Van Gogh painting a picture of sunflowers. Van Gogh loved nature, especially flowers, and considered sunflowers to represent gratitude and, so important to any artist, light itself. He painted many pictures of “Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase” (yes, same title, many paintings), as well as five sunflowers in a vase, wilted sunflowers on a table, and fields of sunflowers with faces toward the eastern morning light. He must never have been satisfied with his sunflower attempts since he continued to do more and more. Or did he, like Monet with his water lilies, continue seeing intriguing differences he wanted to capture?

I asked Candi what she would do with her sunflowers when they bloomed themselves out and started to seed. Being a busy college student, she may not be able to do very much with her crop. But she’d like to harvest the seeds, save some for replanting, roast some, feed some to the birds.

Sunflower seeds are highly nutritious, high in protein, rich in antioxidants. They can be enjoyed sprinkled on salads, vegetables, and even pastas. They are delightful as a snack and are very healthy unless they’re laden too heavily with salt.

It’s obvious Charles and I lost the sunflower competition as to size and number. But we feel like winners having happily watched the progress (inflorescence) of our own tiny crop. More than that, we have so happily enjoyed interactions with great grandchildren, particularly Candi. I wonder if we’re going to be munching her roasted sunflower seeds this winter!

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