The Ultimate Guide to Sunflowers
Discover facts, types, care tips and the meaning of this cheerful icon.
Sunflowers are the very embodiment of summer. With their bright, yellow petals and tall green stems, it’s easy to see why so many people love them. Often used as a symbol of happiness and congratulations, this bloom is a real bringer of joy. And we’re here to bring you even more with our bumper guide to this bright bloom. From interesting facts to tips on how to grow your own, we’re going to share with you everything you need to know about sunflowers.
8 fun facts about sunflowers
- Sunflowers are heliotropic – they move in the direction of the sun
- The scientific name for the sunflower is Helianthus. It comes from the Greek words "helios", meaning sun, and "anthus", meaning flower
- The first Spanish explorers to arrive in Peru in the sixteenth century mistook a field of sunflowers for gold after seeing the amazing golden sunflower jewellery worn by Incan high priests. It earned the sunflower the symbolism of ‘false riches’. Thanks to Mandy Kirkby’s The Language of Flowers for this intriguing bit of floral history.
- The tallest sunflower ever recorded was 9.17m (30ft 1inch)! It was grown in Karst, Germany back in 2014 and still holds the title today.
- Sunflowers are part of the Asteraceae family which is the same family as Daisies.
- The sunflower is the national flower of Russia and Ukraine.
- Sunflower seeds are full of calcium, making them an excellent healthy food source.
- The sunflower’s seeds follow the Fibonacci sequence. Created by the mathematician, Fibonacci, each number in the sequence is the sum of the two previous numbers. All things in nature tend to follow this pattern, you see it especially in spiral shapes!
The sunflower has many meanings across the world from positivity and strength to admiration and loyalty. It is a favourite summer flower and a symbol of optimism that brings joy to those around.
The main qualities of sunflowers
- Happiness - with their vibrant yellow and orange tones, you can't help but smile when you see a sunflower. What's more, the colour yellow is symbol of happiness, joy and positivity.
- Admiration - sunflowers have cultural significance around the world spanning from the time of the ancient Greeks to present. In Chinese culture, sunflowers symbolise good luck and lasting happiness which is why they are often given at graduations and at the start of a new business.
- Optimism - aside from their rich golden hues, sunflowers turn to face towards the sun, they always look on the bright side!
- Loyalty and devotion - Sunflowers have long been considered symbols of faith and devotion, and hailed across civilizations from the incas to the ancient Greeks.
- Strength and resilience - a sunflower's ability to inspire optimism fotifies the mind and promotes inner strength.
SUNFLOWERS IN MYTHOLOGY
The ancient Greeks believed that sunflowers turned towards the sun because of the nymph Clytie's adoration of Apollo, the God of the Sun. At first he loved her too but then he turned his affections towards another nymph. In a jealous rage, Clytie told the other nymph's father and as punishment he buried her alive. Outraged, Apollo turned Clytie into a sunflower, but her love for him was so strong she watched him move across the sky each day - just as sunflowers follow the sun.
The scientific name for the sunflower is Helianthus. It comes from the Greek words "helios", meaning sun, and "anthus", meaning flower.
Types of sunflowers
There are over 80 species of sunflower, ranging in colour from bright and pale yellow to orange, pink and tawny red. Here are a few of our favourites split into three groups; tall sunflowers, short sunflowers and coloured sunflowers.
Grows up to 4.8m (16ft) tall (almost as tall as the upstairs window of a house) and the head up to a metre (3ft) wide! No wonder it's called a giant.
As the name suggests this sunflower grows up to 3.6m (12ft) and has huge 35.5cm (14 inch) petals.
Grows 2.7 - 3.6m (9-12ft) tall and produces large, striped seeds. It does well in Mediterranean climates.
Grows up to about 60cm (2ft) and has long, vibrant yellow petals which look great in garden planters.
Perhaps the most common of sunflowers, they grow between 1.5 - 2.1m (5-7ft tall). Sporting gorgeous bright, yellow petals, they make beautiful cut bouquets.
As the tiniest type of sunflower they only reach about 50cm (20 inches). These bright yellow blooms are ideal for bouquets.
Has a chocolate centre and lovely pale yellow (almost white) petals that grow roughly 10 cm (4 inches) long. They grow to about 2m (5-7ft tall).
Probably the most unusual sunflower on our list, the teddy bear is a big puffy bloom that grows up to about 1.8m (6ft).
A gorgeous little bicolour sunflower, it only grows to about 90cm tall (3ft) with 15cm (6 inch) flower heads. They have a beautiful yellow halo surrounding rusty-red petals.
Sunflower care tips
Taking care of cut sunflowers is easy, as long as you remember the basics. With the right TLC your sunflowers should last between 7 and 10 days in the vase.
Before you pop them in a vase cut 2-3cm off the stems with a sharp, clean knife or secateurs, being sure to cut at an angle to helps the stem take up water. Avoid using scissors as they can crush the stem rather than giving you a nice clean cut.
Take off any foliage that will sit below the water in the vase, it’ll just get soggy and cause bacteria to build up.
Give them plenty of water
Sunflowers are thirsty blooms. Make sure to keep their water topped up and change it every few days if it starts to look grimy. This will help to keep your flowers looking beautiful for longer. Be sure to add flower food too (we make sure every one of our bouquets comes with a packet).
Bonus tip: Get more life from your sunflowers by removing faded petals and foliage, these often go past their best before the main flower.
Light, location and humidity for sunflowers
- Sunflowers do best in moderate temperatures (although they can tolerate warm weather quite well, as you might guess!) Try and pop them in a room that isn’t too hot or cold.
- Keep them out of direct sunlight. They love the sun when they’re in the ground, but it won’t do them any favours once they’re cut.
- Sunflowers look best in the vase when they’re left fairly tall, you want their heads to be just about the rim. Choose a tall vase that holds two thirs of the stems for a striking display.
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT SUNFLOWERS
Do sunflowers follow the sun?
Yes and no. When sunflowers are young they track the sun throughout the day and this is called heliotropism. It is believed they do this because they follow a circadian rhythm like we do as humans - they face east at dawn and slowly turn west as the sun moves across the sky before resetting themselves over night.
Mature sunflowers stop tracking the sun and only face east. This is thought to be because they react more strongly to light in the morning, so facing east allows them to remain warmer which then attracts more pollinators.
How tall do sunflowers grow?
Depending on the type of sunflower, average sunflowers can be as small as 50cm (20 inches) or as tall as 4.8m (16ft). The world record is 9.17m (30ft).
When is sunflower season in Ireland?
Sunflowers tend to bloom from the middle of summer through to early autumn - roughly July to September.
Cut sunflowers are available from May to October and are hard to come by the rest of the year. They have a vase life of 7 - 10 days, or possibly longer if given the right care.
After planting, sunflower seeds can take between 50 and 60 days to bloom. Be aware that certain things can affect this such as weather, the type of soil and pollution.
Are sunflowers annuals or perennials?
They're both! Some sunflower types are annual (helianthus annuus) which means they need to be replanted every year, and some are perennial (helianthus multiflorus) meaning they come back each year from the same plant. Annual sunflowers are the most common
How do I dry sunflowers?
First pick a partially open sunflower - ideally one that isn't too large.
Cut the stem to about 15cm (6 inches) long and pull off any dead leaves.
Either hang the flowers in a dark, dry place or put the vase in a dark, dry place - cupboards are great for this. Make sure none of the heads are touching.
Leave them for two weeks then check in they're dry. If not, leave them for another week.
Once dry, coat the flowers in hairspray to preserve the colour and shape.
Our top sunflower bouquets
Brighten your summer with a vibrant sunflower bouquet hand-tied by one of our expert local florists.