'You can't help but smile when confronted with this sunny in-your-face flower' J J Marshall
The Sunflower (Helianthus) is a native of Peru, and takes its name from Helios, ‘the sun’, and Anthos, ‘flower’. It is a heliotropic plant, its large head facing east to catch the early rays of the sun and following it around to the west in the evening. The plant was first mentioned in an American botanical book in 1569 and was a popular cottage garden flower of the seventeenth century. As Lys de Bray says in her Manual of Old Fashioned Flowers: ‘The most familiar is the huge H. annus whose shaggy yellow heads are often tall enough to peer in at the bedroom window – though they never do, as they are too polite, preferring always to gaze at the sun rather than at any goings-on behind them.’ In the Language of Flowers, the Sunflower has a range of meanings, from haughtiness or respect to pure and lofty thoughts.
Sunflowers are grown not only as a cut flower, but for their oily seeds and as feed for cattle and poultry. Children love to plant them because they grow so quickly – seeds planted in April will reach a height of 6ft or more by the time they flower at the end of July.
The most well known portrayal of Sunflowers in art, is the vase of flowers painted by Van Gogh.