Sunflowers are instantly recognizable. You’re probably already picturing what these yellow giants look like in your head as you read this. But did you know that not all sunflowers are yellow, or tall? They come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.
Sunflowers are found in many different parts of the world, from sunny California to temperate Ukraine. They’re associated with happiness and strength due to their striking appearance. Their height makes them stand out, but there’s not just a pretty face.
These sunflower facts will open your eyes to all the different features of these glorious golden flowers.
27 Sunflower Facts
Let’s get into the most interesting facts about sunflowers. From their cultivation to their characteristics, a few of these facts just might surprise you.
The word sunflower derives from the Greek word helios, which means sun, and anthos, which means flower. The scientific name for this large flower is Helianthus.
There is an actual word for the fear of sunflowers, it’s known as Helianthophobia.
These tough sun-loving yellow beauties are drought-tolerant and pest-resistant. They need at least six hours of direct sun per day and lots of water to keep them happy.
With the right conditions they grow fairly quickly. Sunflowers can reach 12 feet (3.65m) in only 3 months.
Sunflowers typically grow to be between 6 feet and 10 feet (1.82m and 3m) tall. Some varieties can reach up to 14 feet (4.2m) in height.
The tallest sunflower was found in Karst, Germany in 2014. It reached a height of 30 feet and 1 inch (9.17m). It was confirmed in August of 2014 by Guinness World Records.
Dwarf sunflowers are the smaller version of the more commonly seen taller variety. They usually only grow to a maximum height of 3 feet (91.44cm), but some are as small as 1 foot (30.48cm). Their heads look identical to those of normal sunflowers.
Since Dwarf sunflowers don’t grow nearly as large, they can be planted in pots. You can even keep them in your house, as long as they’re in a room with access to plenty of sunlight.
Young sunflowers practice heliotropism, which means they track the sun. They spend the day following the sun from sunrise until sunset, and they continue this cycle until they reach maturity. They have circadian rhythms that aid this behavior.
When sunflowers approach maturity, their internal clock begins to slow down and the weight of their head grows too heavy. When they finish their heliotropism behavior they stay facing east.
There are about 70 different sunflower varieties, all of which are native to the Americas.
This might come as a surprise, but not all sunflowers have a bright yellow pigment, they can be red, orange, deep purple, and even white.
Scientists are able to achieve these colors by a process known as cross-breeding. They manipulate the genetic structure, which results in different colors.
The Moulin Rouge Sunflower is a hybrid variety with burgundy red petals. Chianti sunflowers have deep red petals with flecks of gold. The petals of Strawberry Blonde Sunflowers fade from soft white to a rose pink color.
Sunflowers are more than just an aesthetically appealing plant, you can eat them too. From their roots to their leaves and their sprouts to their stalks, they’re used to make everything from salad to tea.
The shoots of a sunflower can be used in the same way you use sprouts; add them to your salad or as a healthy sandwich filling. The leaves can be tossed raw into salads, boiled, or baked with spices and oil, like kale chips. They can also be steeped to make tea.
Sunflower seeds are a popular health food snack that can be enjoyed raw or roasted. They contain high levels of vitamins A, B3, and C.
Sunflower seed butter is a spread that’s a great option for people allergic to nut butter. The spread has more minerals than peanut butter and is lower in saturated fat.
Lastly, the roots of the Jerusalem artichoke (a type of sunflower) can be roasted, fried, or steamed.
Teddy Bear Sunflowers are as adorable as they sound. These fluffy flowers double bloom, which gives them a fuzzy and full appearance. They’re a dwarf version of the sunflower and are typically grown 2 to 3 feet (60cm to 75cm) tall.
Sunflowers and daisies are part of the Asteraceae family. The floral heads of the plants that belong to this family have what appears to be a single flower head, but they’re actually a cluster of much smaller flowers.
Known as sunyashniki in Ukraine, sunflowers are found all over the country. In folk imagery, they symbolize the warmth and power of the sun. This European country is also one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of sunflower oil and sunflower seeds.
The Wild Sunflower was designated the state flower of Kansas in 1903. This bright yellow flower is featured on the state flag, and Kansas is also nicknamed “The Sunflower State.”
In China, sunflowers mean good luck and lasting happiness. In Japan, they mean adoration, loyalty, and longevity. To Native Americans, they symbolize harvest and provision.
The striking beauty of these yellow flowers is undeniable. Renowned Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh created two series of sunflower paintings. They are among his most famous works of art.
The first series was executed in Paris in 1887. It depicts sunflowers lying on the ground. The second series was crafted in 1888, it displays an arrangement of the flowers in a vase.
Mexican painter Diego Rivera also featured sunflowers in several of his paintings. His creation, “Muchacha Con Girasoles” portrays a girl filling a vase with these large yellow flowers.
Sunflowers generally start to bloom during the warm summer months. However, they can also bloom in early autumn if warm weather lingers.
The optimal temperatures sunflowers need to flourish are between 70 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit (21 and 25 degrees Celsius). But they can also grow in warmer weather.
They can even handle somewhat cooler temperatures, as long as they’re in a sunny environment.
The Native Americans began cultivating sunflowers over 4,500 years ago in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. Some evidence suggests that they may have been cultivated before corn.
Sunflowers provided an important food source. Apart from eating the seeds whole, they would also grind them up to make bread and cake. Sunflowers were also used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.
It’s said that the Aztecs of Peru worshipped sunflowers.
Sunflower seeds were brought to Europe by the Spanish around 1500. For just over 300 years, these yellow plants were mostly just ornamental. By about 1830, seed oil extraction became a commercial enterprise.
That’s right, the pattern of sunflower seeds follows the Fibonacci sequence – 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144. The middle seeds are arranged under this popular sequence.
The head of a sunflower consists of 1,000 to 2,000 tiny individual seeds. They’re joined together in a receptacle base.
Sunflower oil is a rich source of Vitamin E. It also has other nutrients, like Oleic acid, Carotenoids, and Vitamins D, A, and C. It’s been shown to help fight arthritis, improve heart health, and maintain healthy hair. It also contains no cholesterol, making it one of the more healthy oil options for cooking.
The oil is also used in some skincare products and in medicines. The oil is derived from the seeds of sunflowers.
As if this plant wasn’t incredible enough, they can also protect us against harmful emissions.
Millions of these flowers were planted in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 following the disastrous tsunami that caused a radiation leak at a nuclear power plant. Sunflowers are able to soak up radiation from the soil which is stored in their leaves and stems.
In 2012 NASA astronaut Don Pettit brought sunflower seeds to space with him. It was part of his personal biology experiment.
The American Giant Sunflower (also known as the American Giant Hybrid) is typically the tallest growing sunflower variety. At full maturity, it measures between 10 and 16 feet tall (3m to 4.87m), however, it can grow even taller than that. Due to its size, it’s the most popular variety in growing competitions.
Schweinitz’s Sunflowers are one of the rarest types of sunflowers. They were named after German-American botanist Lewis David von Schweintz who discovered the species in the early 1800s. These sunflowers only grow to be about 6 feet (1.82m) tall.
They are found in the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina. Unfortunately, Schweinitz’s Sunflowers have been labeled as an endangered species since 1991.
The French word tournesol translates directly to “turned sun.” This refers to the plant’s unique ability to turn itself toward direct sunlight.
Hopefully, these sunflower facts have brightened your day. These flowers aren’t just ornamental, they’re also edible and can even soak up harmful toxins. It’s safe to say they’re one of the most impressive flowers.