Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Celebrating Sunflowers

Sunflowers say summer like no other plant. In French the word for sunflower is "tournesol" which means turn with the sun.


There is something about their bright, cheerful faces that just makes one happy. A field of sunflowers on gently rolling hills are reminiscent of Van Gogh works of art, we adorn our gardens with dozens of sizes and varieties for their vibrant beauty, and we use them to attract birds or grow for our own eating pleasure.

So why not celebrate them with a festival in their honor.


But first, lets get a little history on this popular flower; after all, it has put down roots in most of the world. And if you are not a history buff, just skip down to the next paragraph.

A little history

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are native to North America, domesticated by the American Indians into a single headed plant with a variety of seed colors (black, white, red & striped). They used the seeds for an assortment of food staples as well as dye for textiles, body painting and medicinally for snakebites and body ointments. The Spanish took the plant to Europe in the 1500. It became a popular cultivated plant under Peter the Great, first as an ornamental and then cultivated for its oil. The Russian Orthodox church increased its popularity since it forbid most oil foods from being consumed during Lent. Somehow, the sunflower didn't make it on the forbidden food list and therefore, increased in popularity. By the 19th century Russian farmers were growing over 2 million acres of sunflowers. They implemented a very successful government breeding program under V. S. Pustovoit and today the most prestigious scientific sunflower award is named The Pustovoit Award. By the 1800 the sunflower seed made its way back to the U.S. and seed companies were advertising the "Mammoth Russian" sunflower seeds. Canada began its first official breeding program in the 1930s. The sunflower was hybridized in the mid-seventies providing higher yields and disease resistant varieties. Over 5 million acres were dedicated to growing sunflowers for oil production in the U.S. at this time.

* Source: Albert A. Schneiter, ed. Sunflower Technology and Production

Now on to the fun stuff

Every July a private family farm in Georgia holds a festival to celebrate these happy flowers. This award winning festival is framed around 15 acres of sunflowers.


It attracts lots of families, photographers and sunflower enthusiasts every year. Even the rain showers didn't deter people from coming out. In addition to the fields of sunflowers there is live music all weekend long, BBQ, artist market, petting zoo, pony rides, and enchanted forest and for the first time zip lining over the sunflowers. For more details go here.


Sunflowers are bold and fiery and stand up alone


but also look stunning in a crowd.


For $20 you can pick your own flowers to take home in a commemorative pot. Sunflowers make terrific cut flowers but beware that according to folklore it is bad luck to cut down a sunflower.


Sunflowers are pollinated by bees and are a great flower to use in a garden for attracting birds.


With so many varieties of sunflowers available there is one for everyone's garden. Do you have this quintessential summer flower growing in your garden?



Next, I have my first guest post about easy ways to learn how to identify a few of our native trees.

21 comments:

  1. I love sunflowers. I think my favorite annual sunflower is the cream-colored, multi-branched 'Italian White'. But I love the plain old giants of the field, too!

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  2. I do have them growing in my small garden. Some are from my cockatoo's bird seed and some I planted early indoors from seed from last year's Fling. I am not sure how they are doing right now, but it will surly be a while before they flower. Last year they came late summer and some late fall. I too think they are such a happy flower and it is good you have a festival in your area celebrating them. They sure do grow tall in Georgia! We also have a farm up here that grows many acres of them. I love to go when the flowers fade. They are so interesting in their decline too, like the photo you showed.

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    1. I agree Donna. Not all blooms are attractive in decline but sunflowers are one of the more interesting ones especially with such big faces. I have yet to capture a bird feeding on one, but I keep trying. We have swamp sunflowers that bloom in the fall and the butterflies love them, especially the Monarchs. Hopefully we will see some come through this year. This spring we didn't have any visit the garden.

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  3. I do love sunflowers - I still remember seeing fields of them in Southern France and being stunned... Just had a conversation today with a colleague who had been so pleased that sunflowers seeded themselves near his bird feeder. Then yesterday he noticed that someone had stolen his sunflowers - I'll have to tell him the folklore about cutting sunflowers as bringing bad luck!

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  4. I do love sunflowers - I still remember seeing fields of them in Southern France and being stunned... Just had a conversation today with a colleague who had been so pleased that sunflowers seeded themselves near his bird feeder. Then yesterday he noticed that someone had stolen his sunflowers - I'll have to tell him the folklore about cutting sunflowers as bringing bad luck!

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    1. We have a similar experience Sheila. I remember rolling hills filled with sunflowers in Italy. The light was fantastic and I completely understand why many of the painters from Northern Europe would head south to work.

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  5. Karin I just love sunflowers...great fun info. We have a farmer who grows fields of these but I don't think he has all the fun things you folks do especially picking your own. I have a reseeding one that has come back for the third year bigger than last year...I think they are my fav summer flower.

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    1. I read that a mature sunflower can have up to 40% of their weight in oil. No wonder they are such a good agricultural crop and one of the prettier ones too. How wonderful that yours continues to reseed!

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  6. Love Sunflowers also. They are so lovely and unique and of course do have other things they are good for.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  7. You're right--you can't be sad when you see a Sunflower ... or a field full of them! What a wonderful event that must be! I arrange flowers for church, and sometimes people donate Sunflowers toward the end of the summer (we're a bit behind you on that). I've never cut one down myself. ;-) Sometimes I have to use a pole of a stake in the arrangement to keep them from bobbing too much, but they are stunning in floral arrangements!

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    1. I bet you make some amazing arrangements! I am not good at putting flowers together in a vase. I need some practice but I never think to cut flowers from our garden to bring indoors.

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  8. I have seen a field of them on Hwy 9, south of Exit 13. Is that where this is? And yes, they are worth celebrating!

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    1. Ellen, this is in Rutledge, just on the south side of Hwy. 20 near Social Circle. We took several back roads to get there.

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  9. I wanted to have few of them in my new garden, but is too late this year. I love them since my grandmother's garden. And I love the seeds toasted!!'

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  10. Oh how I adore sunflowers. I grew the tall ones once, but to my horror, they toppled over just as they were looking their best. Then I tried the dwarf ones, and the rabbits ate them. So now it's the dwarf ones in pots on the deck. I'll take them however I can get them.

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  11. I absolutely love sunflowers. Your photos are lovely.

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  12. LOVE sunflowers and loved the history of them - not boring at all!! Now it makes sense why there are heritage Russian breeds of this north american plant. I have a patch way out on the back of my property that is just for sunflowers. I think I have about 5 varieties this year. Every year I want to try another one and the patch has to keep getting bigger..

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  13. Beautiful pictures, sunflowers are great :) Regards

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  14. I really love sunflowers and have heliopsis and rudbeckia, which are similar. I usually have bird seed sunflowers in the garden but haven't seen any this year. The festival sounds wonderful. I'm headed to something similar this weekend. :o)

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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