Sunflower Meaning and Symbolism

At both the height of summer and as the summer haze fades into autumn, sunflowers are at their best. It almost seems a crime that these beautiful flowers grow to such heights to follow the sun’s path, but the vast majority of sunflowers only last a season.

They have a range of uses past their beauty, and more and more spellbinding hybrids are being created. There’s also a lot of symbolism behind the sunflower.

What does Sunflower Mean?

The common name, sunflower, refers to both the huge, vivid, disc-like blooms which look like the sun, and the way the young plants tilt to face the sun throughout the day.

All but two of nearly 70 species of sunflower are native to Central and North America, but they’re grown throughout the world both for their beauty and to produce the edible sunflower seeds this plant is known for. 

Sunflowers are part of the daisy family, Asteraceae, but the scientific name for sunflowers is Helianthus, which is Greek and means ‘sunflower’. 

What do Sunflowers Represent?

The link with the sun doesn’t end in the name. The yellow petals are called rays, to further cement the association between the flower and the sun, and both tend to make any day at least slightly better than it was before.

Sunflowers themselves represent adoration, loyalty, positive energy, and a long life, no matter the color of the flower itself, although the different shades can add to the meaning. 

What is the Cultural Significance Behind the Sunflower?

Originally, sunflowers were grown for food, and there’s evidence of domestic seeds dating back to 2100 BCE in Mexico. It’s thought they were originally domesticated by Native Americans, around 3000-5000 years ago.

It was when the sunflower was introduced to other countries that people really began to grow them for their beauty. 

They’re also the national flower of Russia and Ukraine.

In Greek mythology, there is an interesting origin story concerning the sunflower. A nymph named Clytie had fallen for Apollo, the God of the sun. Everything seemed well to start with – he liked her back. Unfortunately, Apollo soon grew to like another nymph, too. 

In Clytie’s rage, she went to the father of the other nymph and told him. The father buried his daughter alive to punish her. 

This also drove Apollo to anger, and so he turned Clytie into a sunflower. But still, she turned to follow his path across the sky, every day, as she still loved him, making the sunflower a symbol of enduring love. 

Sunflowers have appeared throughout history in art in every form imaginable, representing a myriad of ideas, but the overarching theme is overwhelmingly positive. 

These days, they’re noted for appearing in the works of Vincent van Gogh, who struggled greatly with his mental health, always recognized art in beauty in whatever he could see. 

Three of his works in particular are famous for the sunflowers – the Vase With Twelve Sunflowers, Four Cut Sunflowers, and Two Cut Sunflowers

Sunflowers have been proven to absorb radiation from the environment they grow in. They take out radioactive contaminants out of the soil, which act a little like the nutrients that the plant would normally absorb. 

Afterwards, the sunflowers are carefully disposed of, as they still contain the radiation. Different types of radiation are harder to get rid of, but it’s easier to dispose of plants rather than tons of earth.

Sunflowers have also come to represent peace, and the nuclear clean up effort. 

They are also a symbol of a protest against nuclear weapons, which not only devastate countless lives, but the earth as well. 

What does a Sunflower Tattoo Mean?

Sunflower motifs are amongst the most popular when it comes to floral tattoos. On the surface, sunflowers are beautiful subjects for any form of art. 

The middle of the flower, which are technically countless tiny flowers, also follows the Fibonacci sequence.

Sunflowers represent the sun, hope, life, and warmth, as well as alluding to ancient cultures who also revered the flower. 

Some people choose the sunflower for a tattoo because of the way sunflowers follow the sun, in that way it’s a symbol of hope, always choosing to face the sun even when things look grim, despite any trouble, choosing to see the joy where it can be found.

The sunflower embodies resilience, positivity, and life.

When Should You Give Someone Sunflowers?

Sunflowers are a great choice for nearly every reason you can think of. 

The traditional, bright blooms are great to give to someone whose day needs brightening, as it’s rare they fail to lift someone’s mood. 

Sunflowers also represent adoration, through the Greek myth of Clytie, to express how deep your feelings are for someone, and how much happiness they bring into your life.

Sunflowers are also the gift for a third wedding anniversary, 

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