Guide to Sunflowers

Sunflowers are a bright and uplifting bloom enjoyed by many across the world. These bundles of sunshine are sure to boost anyone's mood with a burst of optimism, positivity, and happiness. Learn more in our guide to sunflowers below.

Silhouette of a sunflower, seen from behind, with powerful sunlight shining through its petals

Classification of Common Sunflowers

Helianthus annuus

Types of Sunflowers

When you think of sunflowers, you might think of the classic yellow bloom with a deep brown centre. This type of sunflower is just one out of over 70 types of sunflowers. These blooms fit into one of three categories, giant sunflowers, dwarf sunflowers, and colourful sunflowers.

Giant Sunflower

Giant Sunflowers

Common types of giant sunflowers are Skyscrapers, Sunforest Mix, and Russian Mammoth. With an average height of 12 to 16 feet, many birds are attracted to these sunflowers as they can feast on their seeds from up above many other plants and flowers, away from predators.

Dwarf Sunflower

Dwarf Sunflowers

As their name suggests, dwarf sunflowers are much shorter than giant sunflowers and average no more than 3 feet tall. Commonly grown in clusters among small gardens and pots, popular types include Taiyo, Little Becka, Suntastic Yellow, and Pacino.

Colorful Sunflower

Colourful Sunflowers

While we associate sunflowers with their signature bright yellow hue, there is an extensive variety of hybrid sunflowers with unique colours, including red, purple, brown, white, and pink.

Yellow Sunflower

Yellow Sunflowers

Among those listed above, common yellow sunflowers include the American Giant, Zohar, Firecracker, and Elegance.

Red Sunflower

Red Sunflowers

As a hybrid born from the popular yellow sunflower, red sunflowers can be found in various shades. Typical red sunflowers are Prado Red Shades, Evening Sun, and Red Wave hybrids.

Purple Sunflower

Purple Sunflowers

The most common purple sunflower is the Chianti Hybrid. This type of sunflower can grow up to five feet tall and produces no pollen, making it a wonderful choice to add to your at-home summer arrangements.

Brown Sunflower

Brown Sunflowers

An example of a beautiful brown sunflower is the Shock-O-Lat. Its dark brown blooms are similar to that of a decadent chocolate bar, with golden yellow highlights on the tip of each petal. These flowers can grow up to be six feet tall.

White Sunflower

White Sunflowers

White sunflowers include the coconut Ice sunflower. This type has ivory blooms that transition to pure white at the tip of its petals. Coconut Ice sunflowers can grow between four and five feet tall and radiate a refreshing bloom for gardens and summer arrangements.

Pink Sunflower

Pink Sunflowers

The first pink sunflower is said to be the Strawberry Blonde Sunflower. Their pretty pastel pink petals transition to a soft yellow and surround the dark brown centre. These sunflowers can reach above six feet in height.

Close-up photo of a bright, goldewn sunflower in the field

How Did Sunflowers Get Their Name?

The name "sunflower" is a direct reflection of the way these blooms reposition themselves to face the sun throughout the day. This phenomenon of "chasing the sun" and following its pattern from sunrise to sunset is referred to as heliotropism. While the Greek words "Helios" and "Anthos" translate to sun and flower, it makes sense that the genus of the sunflower is Helianthus.

To explain why sunflowers, especially young blooms, have a circadian rhythm to support the heliotropism behaviour, the ancient Greeks turned to the legend of Apollo, the god of sun and light, and Clytie, a water nymph. Clytie was deeply in love with Apollo, and while he loved her back at first, Apollo soon fell in love with Leucothoe. In jealousy, Clytie went to Leucothoe's father who disapproved of his daughter's relationship with Apollo and buried her alive as punishment. Outraged and grieving, Apollo turned Clytie into a sunflower. As such, she spent all of her days still in love, watching the sun as Apollo moved it across the sky every day in his chariot, identical to the way young sunflowers follow the sun across the sky today.

History of Sunflowers

Native to America, the sunflower's origin begins in the western region of the United States around 1000 BC, when wild sunflower plants became domesticated and harvested for their seeds. Over 8,000 years ago, Native Americans cultivated sunflowers as a source of food and medicine to treat wounds, kidney, and chest pains. While they are no longer used for medicinal purposes, sunflowers are now harvested all across the planet and their seeds are still enjoyed by many. The oils of sunflowers are also utilized for beauty products and cooking. Today, North Dakota remains the leader in growing sunflowers due to its optimal soil conditions, water, and climate.

Fun Sunflower Facts

Sunflowers are the state flower of Kansas and the national flower of Ukraine and Russia.

The head of a sunflower can consist of one to two thousand tiny flowers.

Once a sunflower is dried, it can act as a unique and perfect natural bird feeder.

The petals around the circumference of sunflowers are known as "ray florets" and are considered to be flowers themselves.

As the internal clock of mature sunflowers slows down, they finish the heliotropism behaviour and face eastward for the remainder of their lives.

The largest sunflower on Earth was documented in 2014 as being over 30 feet tall and is owned by Hans-Peter Schiffer in Karst, Germany.

Sunflowers were planted to assist in cleaning up and absorbing the nuclear radiation left in the soil after the tsunami struck reactors in Fukushima.

Sunflowers are an excellent healthy snack as their oil contains anti-inflammatory properties and their seeds contain an abundance of calcium.

An inspiration and muse, sunflowers were an important and noteworthy subject for famous painters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Diego Rivera, and Alfred Gockel.

Sunflower seed butter offers more minerals than both almond butter and peanut butter and has a significantly lower amount of saturated fats than peanut butter.

What Do Sunflowers Mean?

Sunflowers are rich in meaning and have come to be a symbol of happiness, joy, optimism, positivity, love, growth, inspiration, peace, strength, longevity, vitality, and intelligence.

The Meaning of Sunflowers by Culture

A sunflower's meaning is also reflective of the beliefs held by certain cultures and the significant ways sunflowers have played a role in their cultural norms. A few examples of sunflowers' cultural symbolism are:

Adoration and Loyalty

A reference to the myth of Apollo and Clytie in Greek Mythology.

Life, Good Fortune, and Vitality

Strong beliefs in Chinese culture.

Harvest, Bounty, and Provisions

Crediting the sunflower for providing food and medicine to early Native Americans.

Faithfulness and Worship

A correlation to the way people of a strong faith might seek light, truth, and spiritual knowledge from the sun.

Tips for Purchasing Sunflowers

Finding the best sunflowers near you starts with your local florist. If you have the opportunity to pick exactly which stems you want to take home or include in your arrangement, keep these tips in mind.

  • If your sunflowers come with plant food, carefully follow the instructions
  • Choose firm, healthy-looking petals
  • Keep an eye out for vibrant green leaves
  • Stay away from wilting or yellow leaves
  • Store your sunflowers in a cool space until you reach home
  • Buy sunflowers locally near your home!

When Are Sunflowers in Season?

The season for sunflowers is the height of the summer and into autumn, as these sunny blooms start to appear in July and continue to flourish through October. While the most common sunflowers are annuals, there are also sunflowers that are perennials and return from the same bloom each year, thriving for approximately eight to twelve weeks.

Shop Sunflowers

Caring for Outdoor Sunflowers

As their name suggests, sunflowers grow best in full direct sunlight, preferably soaking up rays for no less than six to eight hours per day. If you are able to control the air temperature around them, sunflowers thrive in low to high 70 degrees, although adult sunflowers are drought-tolerant and can withstand higher temperatures under the hot summer heat. The best soil for sunflowers has a pH level between 6 and 7.5 and is light and fluffy so their roots can easily spread out. Adding liquid fertilizer and organic materials into your soil is a wonderful way to ensure your sunflowers have an adequate food supply. You will know your sunflower is ready for harvest when the back of its head turns a nice shade of brown.

Pro tip: It is best to clip sunflowers from your garden in the afternoon before bringing them inside to display in a vase.

Caring for Sunflowers in a Vase

Cut sunflowers can last in a vase for about seven to ten days. The best practices for caring for your sunflowers include:

  • Removing any foliage that falls below the waterline in your vase
  • Cutting the stems 2-3 centimetres at an angle
  • Giving your sunflowers fresh water each day
  • Changing the water in your vase every few days

Pro tip: The best vase for sunflowers is tall and allows the heads of your sunflowers to stand proudly above the rim.

What Flowers Go with Sunflowers?

When choosing the perfect flowers to pair with these bright, beautiful, sunny blooms, your search for what flowers go with sunflowers is a fun task. Select additional uplifting, colourful, and complementing hues and bold summer botanicals to create wonderful arrangements. Some brilliant suggestions include:

  • Alstroemeria
  • Hydrangea
  • Roses
  • Calla Lilies
  • Delphinium
  • Aster
  • Snapdragons

Flowers Similar to Sunflowers

When sunflowers are unavailable, or if you want to create a cohesive arrangement with flowers similar to sunflowers, there are a lot of options to choose from. Other flowers that look like sunflowers include:

  • Black-Eyed Susana
  • Bush Daisies
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Coneflowers
  • Coreopsis
  • Daisies
  • Dianthus Caryophyllids
  • False Sunflowers
  • Gerbera Daisies
  • Tickseeds
  • Transvaal Daisies
  • Yellow Daisies
  • Zinnias

Perfect Occasions for Giving Sunflowers

As a symbol of positivity and happiness, sunflowers are a fantastic choice to send to a friend or family member to brighten their day, support and encourage them during a difficult time, or inspire feelings of motivation and empowerment. These beautiful and optimistic blooms are also an ideal "get well" gift for loved ones. The perfect occasion for giving sunflowers is when you hope to promote happiness and longevity. Aside from bringing joy into someone's home, sunflowers are also great for welcoming a new baby or celebrating a graduation or work promotion.

Sunflowers are a good choice for acknowledging and celebrating anniversaries and are often given as a gift for a third wedding anniversary. As a symbol of loyalty, adoration, and strength, they are a wonderful nod to a healthy and happy marriage.