The Garden Muse: Magical sunflowers

Published 8:30 am Saturday, September 9, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
the Garden Muse

Dawn Conrad

I have enjoyed the many southcentral Virginia, small and large sunflower patches that I have driven past in the last few weeks. Their striking bright yellow and green color is surely a joy to behold and undoubtedly have brought a smile to many.

Helianthus annuus L. or the common sunflower is native to the central and southern portion of the United States and Mexico. It is an open land species that self-seeds.

Cultivated and hybridized sunflowers are now available in many colors and sizes. Sunflowers require at least six hours of direct sun daily and like a soil pH of 6-7.5. Temperatures of low to high 70*F are optimal for growth. Adult sunflowers are drought tolerant and therefore can withstand bouts of extreme heat.

A couple fun facts include 1. Sunflowers’ heads will turn during the day to ‘track’ the sun, this behavior is called Heliotropism. 2. Sunflowers are capable of self- pollinating; their stigmas can twist around to reach their own pollen.

The head of the sunflower consists of a thousand tiny flowers or more, all surrounded by the colorful much larger petals called ray florets.

Sunflowers have a long history of inclusion in art and cultural myth and lore. Vincent Van Gogh, Diego Rivera, Alfred Gockel, and Paul Gauguin have all included sunflowers in a major work of art. Apollo, God of the sun turns Clytie into a sunflower in the Greek Mythology story of Clytie & Apollo.

In addition to the sunflower’s beauty some varieties are also grown for their healing qualities. American Heart Association studies have found that sunflower oil contains anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce cholesterol in some people. The seeds are also a very popular healthy snack high in vitamin E and Selenium which both help to prevent chronic disease.

The sunflower is truly a remarkably beautiful plant.

Dawn Conrad is a Retired Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbalist, Writer and Artist. She can be contacted at