What is the Meaning of a Sunflower: Symbolism, Spiritual and Myths
If you adore this bright flower as much as I do, you will be curious to know what is the meaning of a sunflower. What is the symbolism behind this plant, its spiritual meaning and significance in mythology and popular culture.
This page is devoted to discovering the true meanings about this wonderfully bold, bright and beautiful flower that is often aptly called the flower of the sun.
This flower has long been admired in history and has a unique origin story that you will find on this page. It also has many spiritual and symbolic meanings associated with it which you will soon discover.
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What is the Meaning of a Sunflower: What the Word Means
Image Credit: Original image shared by natureworks on Pixabay with a CC License
Helianthus Annuus the common sunflower is from the flower family called Asteraceae.
The latin name of Helianthus Annuus comes from a combination of Greek words. Helios translates to sun and anthos means flower.
The literal meaning of this word is that it is a flower of the sun. Helios was the Greek sun god and Anthos was actually a Greek name used for boys.
🌻 This striking and bold plant may have received its name because of the amazing shape of the flower head in bloom. The shape bears a tremendous resemblance to how so many people view the shape of the sun. Ask any child to draw the sun and the odds are that they will draw something that looks very similar to the bloom of a sunflower plant.
The fact that this flower has been thought to always face towards the sunshine, may well be another reason why it was given the name by which it is now so famous for.
Certainly, if there ever was a plant to be named after the sun, it should be this one. What a sheer delight these gorgeously bright yellow, orange and red blooms are to view and to discover more about. Who can argue against the beautiful and magnificent bright yellow petals and the fact that it appears to look towards the sun.
Origin Myth: The Sunflower Story Greek Mythology of Clytie and Apollo the Sun God
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There are lots of variations of the Greek story of the Sunflower. This is a Greek origin myth which tells how this plant came to be and blossomed into existence.
There are many arguments over this particular myth because it appears that the original was actually about the Turnsole plant. Over the years through being passed down through history, it seems that the Turnsole was replaced with the sunflower and sometimes even a marigold instead.
This is a tale featuring Clytie, also known as Clytia, the water nymph. It is a wonderful Greek myth and this charming origin story does indeed fit the sunflower so beautifully.
My Retelling of the Greek Story of the Sunflower
The Greek water nymph, Clytie, fell in love with the Sun God called Apollo. She often gazed up at him and hoped that he would offer a look or a glance in her direction. He never did look upon her because Apollo was in love with someone else and had no interest in looking down at Clytie.
After a long time, Clytie realized that Apollo had no interest in her. It was a one sided and unrequited love that would never be reciprocated. Clytie became depressed at the thought that her love would never be returned. She refused to eat and drink and just stared forlornly at Apollo.
In time, the other Greek Gods felt sorry for Clytie. Eventually they decided to change her into a beautiful flower, a sunflower, as this was kinder than leaving her as she was.
Clytie the sunflower always looked towards Apollo, the Sun God. This was then how all sunflowers came to follow the path of the sun.
The Greek origin story of the sunflower is rather sad. Clytie was a lovesick water nymph who pined for someone and yearned for a love that she could never have. However, her sadness was transformed into the beautiful yellow color flower that is still with us today.
Different Versions of the Greek Sunflower Origin Story
- 🌻 Clytie gradually transformed herself into a sunflower by refusing to eat or drink. She wilted away into a plant when Apollo did not return her love.
- 🌻 The other Gods felt sorry for the lovesick Clytie. They turned her into a Sunflower so she could always look at Apollo.
- 🌻 Clytie was bitterly jealous of the love that Apollo had for Leucothoe. In revenge for Apollo not looking at her and looking at someone else instead, Clytie told Leucothoe's father what was going on. He was angry about the love affair and he had his daughter Leucothoe killed. Apollo hated Clytie after finding out what she had done. She wasted away in misery before eventually changing into a sunflower.
The Spiritual Meaning of the Sunflower: Do They Really Follow the Sun?
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The sunflower appears to worship the sun because the blooms have been thought to face the sun as it slowly moves and travels across the sky each day.
Many people view this flower as being highly spiritual. These flowers appear as if they follow the sun as it moves each day from East to West in the sky. It makes the flowers look as if they are highly loyal and devout, just as a follower of faith is.
In a spiritual meaning, these plants are seen as being genuine followers of the sun. This has a connection with Christians following God and other religions following their spiritual guide or divine being.
No matter how small or how little light there is, sunflowers are believed to seek out the light and hold their heads high as if in worship and adoration of the sun.
They are therefore a symbol of true and faithful loyalty to something that is much brighter and bigger than themselves. The spiritual meaning is much more glamorous than the scientific one below.
Heliotropic Flowers and Following the Sun
Some flowers are heliotropic. Heliotropism refers to species that seem to track or follow the movement of the sun as it travels across the sky from East to West. This plant belongs to the heliotropic species. However, it is a myth that it always follows the movement of the sun.
Research has found that it is only the buds and leaves of the sunflower which display any of this amazing sun turning behavior. Once a head of the plant has flowered and come into bloom with its petals on display, it is no longer actually heliotropic. It then remains fixed facing towards the east where the sun rises.
Time Lapse Video Showing the Movement of the Sunflower Following the Sun
This whole behavioral pattern of the sunflower plant is scientific. It relates to some special stem cells which are located just beneath the buds. The leaves of this plant are phototropic.
Phototropic means that the flowers are responding with some growth in the direction of an actual light source, in other words growing in the direction of the sun.
Discover More Facts on the Sunflower Here
Symbolism of the Sunflower: What this Flower is a Symbol Of
Keep Your Face to the Sunshine Sunflower Art Print by PattieJansen on Etsy
🌻 1: A Symbol of Steadfast Loyalty, Everlasting Faith and Adoration
Even though science has proved that this plant doesn't actually follow the sun all day, it is still the plant that people most widely associate with this idea.
For this reason and with how it has been seen through the ages, it is always going to be a symbol of unswerving faith, loyalty and dedicated love, devotion and adoration.
🌻 2: A Symbol of Optimism and Happiness
The shape and the color of the sunflower heads and their bright yellow, orange and red petals are symbolic of the sun. This flower represents happiness, radiance and all things that are positive.
In this way, sunflowers are perfect for happy occasions. You can use them for all kinds of joyous events and celebrations such as weddings, engagement parties, baby showers and birthdays.
🌻 3: A Symbol of Longevity
In China, this flower symbolizes longevity or long life. It may be due to the sun which is perceived to have an enduring life even though eventually it will die out.
On a practical note, when these plant stems are cut to make flowers for vases and bouquets, they can last for 2-3 weeks so are quite hardy.
🌻 4: A Symbol of Good Fortune and Good Luck
In dreams, the sunflower is believed to be a very lucky symbol or motif. It is viewed as symbolizing career and employment ambitions, wealth, good fortune and positive opportunities.
This flower is quite the lucky charm for someone who may be beginning on a new career path or starting a job.
The American History of the Sunflower
Rooster with Sunflowers Art Print by TheOpulentNest on Etsy
The sunflower is native or indigenous to America, the USA, where its history began. In the 16th century, Incan priestesses in Peru worshiped a giant variety of the sunflower plant. This plant was a symbol of their Incan sun god.
The Incan priestesses wore clothing that was adorned with large flower shaped ornaments. These ornaments and decorations were made from gold. Images showing these designs have been discovered in Peruvian temples.
Native Americans used this plant for food and other things. It is believed that it was a very important Native American crop. Like the Incan priestesses that came before them, Native Americans also worshiped the plant.
They held spiritual ceremonies such as the Sun Dance. As well as being a food source, the flower became a symbol of strength and endurance. They would put sunflower seeds on top of graves containing their dead.
Now this plant is a major oil crop for the USA and also the international market. It is used for many purposes from cooking oil, seed for birds and as color in dyes. It is also the state flower of Kansas.
Majestic Sunflower Blooms from a Burn Pile
Image Credit: Image Shared With Permission by Jennifer McBride. Image Copyright: © Jennifer McBride
I just love this wonderful and inspiring story told to me by Jennifer about her amazing "Trash to Treasure" sunflower. Thank you for sharing your superb photos with us too.
You can follow Jennifer on Instagram, where she shares her gardening and other photos. Check out her wonderful fairy garden creation there.
I have what I call my "trash sunflower" in my backyard. At the end of the season in the Fall 2018, I pulled all of my dead flowers and stems out of my small sunflower patch and put into my burn pile.
I use this burn pile a lot to burn things over and over again throughout the year. I noticed that a stalk was coming up and left it alone because it appeared to be a sunflower plant. Now it’s huge, at least 10 feet tall.
I’ve counted 25 buds on the entire stalk and new blooms are opening each day. I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s My Majestic Sunflower! I’m so blessed this year too with so many good things happening. I’d love to share the documentary photos that I’ve been snapping along the way.
Image Credit: Image Shared With Permission by Jennifer McBride. Image Copyright: © Jennifer McBride
I’ve attached two photos, one is of the largest bloom that opened up and another is of the several on top that just recently opened up. I always plant a sunflower patch in my yard every year; but what a surprise this one that appeared was and it has brought me a lot of joy!
The Sunflower has the Greatest Symbolic Meaning of Peace and Hope
One of the sunflower's greatest and most important symbolic meanings is that of having a nuclear-free world. This flower was chosen back in 1996 in order to represent a world of peace and one that is free of any harmful nuclear weapons.
New varieties and seeds were planted during this time on an old Ukrainian missile base and also planted across nuclear disaster sites such as Fukushima, Chernobyl and Hiroshima.
The flowers have been shown to absorb harmful toxic elements and radiation from the soil and clean up the environment. Being so good for the environment as well as beautiful to look at, it is no wonder that the sunflower has now truly become a symbol of peace and also hope for the future of humankind.
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Articles are accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Love, love. Love sunflowers. My home is decorated with silk sunflowers so in the cold winter months here in the northwest I can still enjoy their amazing cheerful colors.
Posted by: BH | 27 April 2018 at 12:26 PM
I just bought sunflowers today from the Farmer’s Market. Everyone was carrying a bundle coming from the market. I wanted to bring a gift to my friend reunion tonight, so I brought each friend a bundle of sunflowers. It was received graciously. And the flowers itself were so magestic and boldly beautiful. Great choice.
Posted by: Katie | 06 October 2018 at 09:14 AM
You might be interested to know that the world famous herbalist Ingrid Naiman has discovered that the stems and leaves of the sunflower plant absorb radiation and if floated on the ocean will clean it of radioactive spills. Think Fukushima.
Posted by: Lois | 19 May 2019 at 03:49 PM
I have what I call my “trash sunflower” in my backyard. At the end of the season in the fall 2018, I pulled all of my dead flowers and stems out of my small sunflower patch and put into my burn pile. I use this burn pile a lot to burn things over and over again throughout the year. I noticed that a stalk was coming up and left it alone because it appeared to be a sunflower plant. Now it’s huge, at least 10 feet tall. I’ve counted 25 buds on the entire stalk and new blooms are opening each day. I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s My Majestic Sunflower! I’m so blessed this year too with so many good things happening. I’d love to share the documentary photos that I’ve been snapping along the way.
Posted by: Jennifer McBride | 13 June 2019 at 03:03 AM
Can we just take a moment to thank the creator for such a magnificent creation as the sunflower🌻greetings from sunny Florida....................
Posted by: Janet Kirkland | 28 July 2019 at 05:09 PM