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Facts, Types, Meaning and Care Tips

Sunflowers have an iconic status as bringers of light and cheeriness to our gardens, homes and weddings. As one of the most recognisable flowers, forever immortalised by Van Gogh in some of his most famous paintings, sunflowers are our very own slice of summer, and we're going to tell you everything you need to know about these beautiful blooms.

sunflower meaning

The scientific name for the sunflower is Helianthus, which gives us a clue to its roots. Helianthus comes from the Greek word 'Helios' meaning sun and 'anthos' meaning flower.

The sunflower has many meanings across the world, but the big, bright nature of the sunflower is predominantly said to mean; admiration, loyalty and longevity.

In Chinese culture sunflowers are said to mean good luck and lasting happiness which is why they are often given at graduations and at the start of a new business.

What do sunflowers represent / symbolise?

As sunflowers follow the sun, they are said to symbolise seeking out positivity and strength.

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 Leucothoe. In a jealous rage Clytie told Leucothoe's father and as punishment he buried her alive!

Outraged, Apollo turned Clytie into a sunflower, but her love for him was so strong so she watched him move across the sky each day - just as sunflowers follow the sun.

a few facts about Sunflowers

These beautiful flowers are quite interesting too. Here's a few things you probably didn't know about Iris:
  • Sunflowers are part of the Asteraceae family and are native to North America.

  • The sunflower is the national flower of Russia and Ukraine.

  • Sunflowers were worshipped by the Incas due to their resemblance to the life-giving sun.

  • Sunflower seeds are full of calcium.

  • The tallest sunflower ever recorded was 8.23m (27ft). It was measured in Kaarst, Germany on September 2th 2012.

  • The sunflower is the only flower with ‘flower’ in its name.

  • The spiral formation of seeds in a sunflower follow the Fibonacci sequence.

  • Sunflower seeds can be black or striped. The black ones are used to make oil and the striped ones are often sold as snacks.

Types of Sunflowers

There are over 80 species of sunflower, ranging in colour from bright and pale yellow to orange, pink and tawny red.

As there are so many different types of sunflower we've split some of the most popular into three groups; tall sunflowers, short sunflowers and coloured sunflowers.

Tall sunflowers

  • American Giant
    Grows up to 16ft (4.8m) tall (almost as tall as the upstairs window of a house in the UK) and the head up to a metre (3ft) across! No wonder it's called a giant.

  • Skyscraper
    As the name suggests this sunflower grows up to 12ft (3.6m) and has huge 14 inch (35.5cm) petals.

  • Mammoth Russian
    Grows 9 - 12ft (2.7 - 3.6m) tall and produces large, striped seeds. It does well in Mediterranean climates.

Short Sunflowers

  • Pacino
    Grows up to about 2ft (60cm) and has long, vibrant yellow petals which look great in garden planters.

  • Taiyo
    Grows 9 - 12ft (2.7 - 3.6m) tall and produces large, striped seeds. It does well in Mediterranean climates.

  • Suntastic yellow
    As the tiniest of our selection of sunflowers they only reach about 50cm (20 inches). These bright yellow blooms are ideal for bouquets.

  • Italian White

    Has a chocolate centre and lovely pale yellow (almost white) petals that grow roughly 4 inches (10cm) long. They grow to about 7 ft (2m).

    Teddy Bear

    Probably the most unusual sunflower on our list, the teddy bear is a big puffy bloom that grows up to about 6ft (1.8m).

    Little becka

    Probably the most unusual sunflower on our list, the teddy bear is a big puffy bloom that grows up to about 6ft (1.8m).

    Sunflower care and preservation tips

    Cut sunflower care tips:

    1. Sunflowers have a vase life of roughly 7-10 days.

    2. Remove any foliage that will be under the waterline in the vase - this prevents the build up of bacteria in the water.

    3. Add any flower food to the water as per the packet instructions.

    4. Cut about 2-3 cm from the stems, make sure you do this at an angle as this improves the water uptake of the flowers.

    5. Sunflowers do best in moderate temperatures so place them in a room that isn’t too hot or cold

    6. Change the water and re-trim the stems every few days for increased longevity.

    7. Note Get more life from your sunflowers by removing faded petals and foliage as these often fade before the flower head

    8. Style tip Sunflowers look their best when the heads are slightly above the rim of the vase.

    How do I dry / preserve sunflowers?

    1. First pick a partially open sunflower - ideally one that isn't too large.

    2. Cut the stem about 6 inches (15cm) long and pull off any dead leaves.

    3. 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.

    4. Leave them for two weeks then check in they're dry. If not, leave them for another week

    5. Once dry coat the flowers in hairspray to preserve the colour and shape.

    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 8.23m (27ft).

    How long do sunflowers bloom?

    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.
    After planting, sunflower seeds can take 50 to 60 days to bloom. This can be affected by the weather, soil, pollution and other factors. They tend to bloom from the middle of summer through to early autumn.

    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 plant sunflowers?

    When: The time to plant sunflowers is just as the weather is beginning to warm up - ideally around mid-April to late May.

    Where: It's not surprising that sunflowers love the sun, so make sure you plant them in a spot that gets plenty of sunlight (about 6 - 8 hours a day). As sunflowers can grow quite tall pick a spot near to a fence or wall that you can anchor it to, and somewhere out of the wind.

    How: Find a nice big area as sunflower roots like to spread out. Loosen up the soil ready for planting your seeds - dig about 60cm (23 inchs) down and 90cm (35 inches) across. Make sure it’s well-draining soil.

    Sowing: Place two seeds in each spot about 45cm (18 inches) apart and 5cm (2 inches) deep. Leave about 75cm (30 inches) between rows to give them plenty of space.

    Feed: Sunflowers are thirsty so water them often and be gentle. Once established, water them with a lot of water but only once a week, unless it's been very hot or extremely rainy.

    Protect: To stop birds getting at the seeds cover them with some netting until they start to sprout. Protect the seedlings from slugs by placing half a plastic bottle over them.

    How do I transplant sunflowers?

    If you want to move your sunflowers to a new location you'll have to:
    • Pick where you'd like to move your sunflower to and dig a hole about 20cm (8 inches) wide and deep. Loosen the soil in this area to make sure the roots have air because they'll take more easily.

    • Now it’s time to dig up the sunflower you wish to move. Take care and leave plenty of space to account for the roots - you could damage them and the flower may not survive.

    • Dig straight down and make sure you go quite deep. This will ensure you don't break the largest roots.

    • Give the plant a gentle shake to get rid of any excess dirt and carry it to its new location.

    • Place it in the centre of the hole you made earlier and pack it down with soil so it's nice and sturdy. Give it plenty of water to encourage the roots to take hold and to help your sunflower over the trauma of being moved.