“…in August…there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and – from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone…the title reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization.”
– William Faulkner, Light in August
Otherwise known as Helianthus annuus, the sunflower is the perfect flower for summertime, deriving its name from helios (sun) and anthos (flower).
A favorite flower of ours, it is believed to have originated in Mexico and Peru and is thought to be one of the first crops grown in the United States. One might be surprised to learn that, today, the countries making up the former Soviet Union are the world’s leading producers of sunflowers, followed by Argentina, France, China, Spain, and the United States.
Aside from producing a sudden feeling of gaiety and euphoria when encountered, sunflowers are known for their seeds, oil and petals that are used for dye.
Deeply rich in nutrients, dried sunflower seeds are an excellent source of potassium, thiamine, magnesium, folic acid, pantothenic acid, copper, phosphorus, zinc, iron, niacin and vitamin B6. For this reason, many professional athletes chew on sunflower seeds in place of chewing tobacco.
One of its most unique features, however, is its ability to “follow” the sun, what is referred to as heliotropism – a form of tropism (or “turning”) that causes sunflowers to turn their flowers toward the sun in order to maximize photosynthesis (see here for details). Doing so provides sunflowers with 10 to 15 percent more sunlight than if they remained motionless, allowing for the full maturation of their flowers and leaves.
Much like we might reposition ourselves during a day of tanning on the beach, sunflowers do the same – craving the sun’s warmth and luminous light to the very last drop!