Sunflower means positivity, energy and joy
It is coming to the end of summer and what a stunning, hot season it has been! As we move into autumn there is one flower that bridges the seasonal gap spectacularly. If you were asking yourself an internal question today, perhaps wondering whether to go ahead with a project or build a new relationship, if you see a sunflower you know the answer is ‘yes’. The sunflower enthuses us with joy and optimism. The flower itself looks very symbolic. Its face epitomises the central burning star of the sun, with its petals emulating the sun’s rays reaching across the sky to warm us and kiss our skin. So, its meaning is all about power, energy and positivity.
Miracles of nature
The sunflower is a teacher of positivity. It is one of the first seeds we sow with our children. Before long, leaves are popping through the soil. I still feel their excitement when I teach children about ‘growing’ and we have competitions to see whose sunflower will grow the tallest. How life enforcing this plant is and how clearly it reminds us of the miraculous properties of nature. For, within a season, the tiny seed will be far taller than the child who planted it.
Turn to the Light
What I love about the sunflower is how, both metaphorically and physically, it ‘seeks out the light’. As it grows the head turns to face the rising sun in the East and follow the sun’s path across the sky throughout the day. Anyone who has seen a field of sunflowers in scorching hot Italian or French countryside will have remarked at how stunning a field of flowers, all upturned in exactly the same direction, can be. The Italians and French recognise this flower behaviour with their literal naming of the plant ‘Girasol’ and ‘Tournesol’ (Turn to the sun). This characteristic only changes once the flower is fully grown and the head hangs heavily.
Sunflowers can mean false riches
It is not surprising, when the sun is so vital to our existence, that there have been legends about sun gods since the beginning of time. Yet this has had repercussions. In Peru, sun worshippers used the sunflower as a symbol of their worship and, during the 16th century, the conquering Spaniards put those people to death for idolatry. So, the sunflower has not always brought happiness. Indeed, in Victorian times, the sunflower symbolised false riches. In 1881 Oscar Wilde was portrayed in Punch as a sunflower. He was ridiculed at the time for being a ‘walking spectacle’. His flamboyant dress style was criticised as being eye-catching and attention seeking.
The edible, life-giving properties of the Sunflower
Yet, far from being superficial, the sunflower has proof of its energy and power. Not only does it look spectacular, strong and seek out the light, it is a source of nutrition and good health. The sunflower’s central, disc florets fall in the autumn to reveal a pattern of tightly packed seeds that remind me of a tapestry or cross stitch. Wild birds flock to enjoy those seeds which are especially important once the weather turns cold. Do not forget how valuable the edible oil and fats are to our diet and how useful the sunflower can be for livestock forage. The sunflower may finish flowering in late Autumn, but it has so much to give us and our environment throughout the winter months.
The magic of the sunflower has many facets; practical and symbolic and so we should not forget its pure beauty. William Morris brought sunflowers back into fashion in the English Arts and Crafts movement 1870s. His style of art brought the exterior into our homes with his fabrics, wall coverings and designs which celebrated nature. Despite their Victorian meaning, a vase of sunflowers placed on a table in a living room became the symbol of aesthetic taste. Judging by the numbers of sunflowers I see in the cut flower sections in our shops, is something that has not changed since! It is worth noting that one of the most visited pictures in the National Gallery in London is Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. It seems that we are all captivated by this flower’s beauty and its peculiar ability to transform our disposition to a sunnier, happier place.