The Secret Life of Flowers: What Does a Sunflower Symbolize

What does a sunflower symbolize? I’ve always hoped that I wasn’t the only one whose mind wandered to the scene in Shrek, where he gives Donkey the ‘ogres are like onions’ analogy in the middle of a sunflower field. Not only an iconic moment in movie history but also the first time I recognized a sunflower as, well, a flower (go easy, I was six). I also remember it being my mom’s favorite flower for many years. Which consequently turned into her obsession with giving my sister and I, you guessed it, sunflower seeds as a snack. 

I still enjoy sunflower seeds in my adult life, but maybe because I’m no longer receiving bowls of it every other day. Harvesting sunflower seeds is actually way easier than I thought, and I’m excited to share the news with anyone who will listen. Of course, before we bear fruit (seeds) from this god-like flower, we should know where it comes from. Read below as I tell you all I’ve learned about sunflowers and how to harvest and roast your own sunflower seeds.

What Does a Sunflower Symbolize: A field of beautiful sunflowers

The Perks of Being A Wallflower… I Mean, The History of The Sunflower

If the sunflower could speak, it would tell you the magnificent and centuries-old story of its journey around the world and back. But, while we wait for that auspicious day, you’ll just have to hear my version for now. 

Historical evidence suggests that the sunflower was domesticated even before corn, as hunter-gatherers used it as a natural source of fat to supplement lean meat. However, the harvesting of sunflower seeds can be traced back 5000 years ago in the South-Western parts of North America, now known as Mexico. 

It did not take long for Europeans to discover the generosity of the sunflower and thus the benefits of transporting sunflower seeds across the world. But, its ‘heyday’ only began in the 19th century when Russia was manufacturing sunflower oil on a commercial scale. And by commercial, I mean, these guys were growing over 2 million acres each year. 

As nature, or the sunflower gods, would have it, the crop eventually returned to its home and today sits on its rightful throne in the fields of North America. 

What Does a Sunflower Symbolize: Symbolism, Meaning, and Mythology

The sunflower symbolizes more than just the sun. But, much like the fiery ball that lights up our Earth, it has shined its light on different parts of the world and, in doing so, gained many different meanings. I’ll be telling you the good and the down-right crazy. 

The Sunflower in Folklore: Your Garden’s Good Luck Charm

If you’re currently growing sunflowers in your garden, I come bearing good news. Many folkloric traditions consider the sunflower a symbol of good luck and planting them around your garden and home brings you good fortune. 

The sunflower is also a symbol of loyalty and devotion. So, slipping sunflower oil or sunflower seeds into someone’s food would cause them to be loyal to you. Although I doubt my mother was testing the loyalty of her then 6 and 3-year-old daughters, according to legend, she was feeding us some pretty powerful stuff. 

And, for this very reason, I know that a bouquet of sunflowers will make for the perfect gift for your special someone (wink-wink). 

The Sunflower in Greek Mythology: Never Fall For A Greek God 

The more I learn about Greek mythology, the more I seek justice for the women done wrong in these stories. But, leaving that subject for another day, this story begins the way most of them do; a woman named Clytie, fervently in love with a Greek god named Apollo. This was her first mistake as she grew jealous of another woman who had caught Apollo’s eye. 

Long story short, he ended up turning her into a sunflower. Because he was a sun god and could do that kind of thing instead of dealing with his issues. Legend says that, even as a sunflower, Clytie would still gaze towards Apollo wherever he went. Poor girl. 

We're all golden sunflowers inside Quote

Vincent Van Gogh and Sunflowers: The Man Who Painted Happiness

I learned about Van Gogh in school during history and art class. But, researching him again definitely had a more significant effect on me as an adult and writer. For me, his life tells the story of ‘creating your own happiness,’ which unfortunately didn’t work out for him, but is an inspiring notion nonetheless. 

To Van Gogh, yellow was the emblem of happiness, an emotion that he fought hard to sustain throughout his life. Being of Dutch origin, Dutch literature inspired him to paint sunflowers, wherein the flower symbolizes loyalty, devotion, and gratitude. Only made available in the 19th century, he was one of the first artists to use vibrant yellow oil paints for his artwork. 

He painted five large canvases of ‘Sunflowers’ paintings, of which one now stands in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

What Does a Sunflower Symbolize as a National Flower

The North American native plant has become so popular in Eastern Europe, particularly in Ukraine where it was adopted the national flower. Ukraine’s landscapes are often adorned with vast fields of blooming golden flowers. Yet what does the sunflower symbolize for Ukrainians now? Today, the sunflower holds a profound meaning. Its significance transcended its natural beauty on February 24, 2022, when Ukraine fought for its liberty against a full-scale invasion by Russia. In the face of devastation caused by shelling and fire, the sight of a sunflower bravely growing from the war-torn soil has become an emblem of national resilience, representing the indomitable spirit and unwavering determination of the Ukrainian people.

What Does a Sunflower Symbolize: National Flower of Ukraine

Harvest and Roast Your Own Sunflower Seeds: A Step-By-Step Guide

Like I said, harvesting sunflower seeds is simpler than you think. In fact, if my mom got her hands on this guide, she’d be back on her sunflower seed craze in the blink of an eye.

Step 1: You’ll Need Sunflowers

If you grow your own sunflowers, the flower will let you know when it’s ready. It will droop a little, the petals close to the center will be dry, and you’ll see the seeds very clearly. Don’t be too sad about it, though; you’re using it for something yummy! 

Step 2: A Snip, A Rub, and A Tub

Cut the flower head off the stem and place it on a flat surface. Then proceed to rub the center to remove the seeds from the flower. Then boil your sunflower seeds in water and let them simmer for about 15-20 minutes. 

Step 3: Roast in the Oven

Remove water from the seeds and spread them out on a sheet pan. Add salt and other spices to taste and pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 400°F. Keep a close eye on them as they can burn quickly. 

Once they’re roasted to your liking, let the snacking begin! 

What Does a Sunflower Symbolize: Wood Background with Sunflowers

Fun Facts About Sunflowers You Didn’t Know

  • There are over 70 different species of sunflowers. 
  • The petals and disc you see on sunflowers are actually tiny individual flowers. 
  • A sunflower can contain as many as 1000-2000 seeds. 
  • To date, the tallest sunflower is 30 feet tall (that’s about double the length of a giraffe!) 
  • Counting sheep? Why not just fill your home with sunflowers? These magnificent plants use an internal circadian clock that allows them to follow the sun as they grow, which is also known to help regulate human sleep-wake cycles. 

Sunflowers: The Multi-Purpose Plant That Has Our Hearts

I hope this article has made you fall in love with sunflowers; I certainly have – all over again. And if you want to share the beauty of this magnificent flower with your loved ones, Russian Flora can help you do just that. Check out our selection of sunflowers and more of our beautiful bouquets delivered worldwide. 

Anyway, I’m making my exit song ‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth – if you know, you know.

You’ve learned a ton about what does a sunflower symbolize. Now what?

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