Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Sunflowers – A Happy Guardian

My son, Aidan, has built a mystique around sunflowers. Mostly it has to do with how they follow the sun — an open sunflower in the ground will start the day with the flower facing east and finish the day facing west. Aidan believes they do this to see him off to school in the morning and welcome him back in the afternoon. He also believes that, because they are so tall, they are perfect for standing guard over all the other plants in the garden. We always plant a row of sunflower seeds in the back of our mystery pumpkin bed every season to, according to Aidan, keep our pumpkins safe until they are ready to harvest for Halloween. I also believe there is something more to sunflowers than meets the eye. Like apricots and cherries, the arrival of sunflowers en mass at our stores signals the end of the spring (and a tearful goodbye to tulips and most other bulb flowers). Sunflowers personify summer and the outdoors. They are a wonderful plant to grow, having many fascinating stages and a dizzying array of colors, bloom characteristics and practical uses.  Among these is a second life as a natural bird feeder — as the bloom fades and the seeds mature, sunflowers naturally attract birds and squirrels. Aside from their aesthetic attributes, sunflowers are a very important commercial plant. A native to North America, sunflowers owe their commercial success to Russian farmers. Grown for two primary crop types, small sunflower seeds are pressed for oil (for cooking and cosmetic uses) and larger varieties are cultivated for seed for a broad range of uses. Commercial sunflower fields are fascinating to see — possessing the same “follow the sun” characteristics as garden sunflowers do but on a much larger scale. Sunflowers for the fresh cut market are also an extremely important regional and local crop. As the domestic season progresses and local growers come on line, sunflower supply chains get shorter and shorter. West coast commercial production is mainly in Southern California. The east coast gets much of its commercial supply from North Carolina and Michigan but when the weather gets warms enough, sunflowers can come from virtually anywhere. Varieties are diverse, depending on growing areas and desired characteristics, but one thing all sunflowers have in common is that they are big and heavy, which makes short trips to market all the more desirable for growers. Our global sunflower expert Amanda gave me some basic care tips:
  • Sunflowers prefer clean water (their fuzzy stems are easily clogged up in a vase).
  • Re-trimming the stem each time you change the water will help them last longer.
  • Average vase life for well-cared-for suns is about two weeks.
  • Keep away from direct sunlight and excessive heat, as this will force the flowers to “drink” more heavily and lean towards the light source (which is a recipe for a broken vase).
  • If the blooms are not fully “face” open, just give them a trim and let them drink up warm water (bath temp) for about one hour…they’ll wake up for sure!
  • Keep water cool and clean and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
I have to admit, I have fed Aidan’s perception that sunflowers are somehow more “alive” than other plants — mainly because I believe it to be true. I love how seeds from the same plant can produce new sunflowers that are sometimes radically different from the parent plant. I could swear I hear them growing at times and even at their last stages of life, sunflowers have a complex beauty that is lasting. Maybe I’m a little goofy, but it does feel at times in quiet hours of the morning (east) or in the final moments of the day (west), that these tall, swaying giants are somehow watching over me and all the other plants in the garden. That’s fine by me, I can’t think of a happier guardian. Many thanks to Amanda Rainey for contributing to this post.

Leave a reply

To provide feedback or ask a question about our company, a store or a product, please visit our Customer Service page.

For more information about posting comments to our blog, please see our Comment Posting Guidelines.



Georgia Pellegrini says …

Thanks for the tips on keeping sunflowers. They are such a beautiful and cheerful flower.

Margo says …

I like Aidan's views that the sunflowers are in tune with both his comings and goings and the need of those pumpkins! I have a plant given to me by a friend. She called it a shamrock, but its segmented 3 leaves are triangular, not heart shaped like the clover shamrock. It opens with the sun and closes when it sets. It is a fun plant to have around, as it says good morning right along with the sun!

Artisans' Gallery says …

Thanks for the sunflower thoughts, sharing & tips. They are one of my three favs (shasta daisies and gerberas, being the others). @Margo: perhaps your friend gave you an oxalis plant. when blooming, they have teeny white fairy flowers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxalis

Jacqueline M. Jakle says …

I love sunflowers, too...and the story about how the little boy felt he and his pumpkin patch were being guarded by the sunflowers is very sweet. I think sunflowers are so pretty and cheerful; they seem to have a face, surrounded by a bonnet! I love the variety and colors and always look forward to seeing them each year.

J Reynolds says …

I have fallen in love with sunflowers after planting them for the fist time last year-I have what is known as a black thumb and never had much luck with keeping things alive-I got these nice seeds from my hubby last year and decided to give it a go-wow, did they grow!! They were beautiful and I fell in love also with the way they move and open towards the sun-I loved your comment on being able to hear them grow-this year I planted a bunch more, and they are growing so fast due to the rain in the area-I used a variety of seeds and can't wait to see the different colors and varieties!!

Susan Whang says …

i love sunflowers... i completely agree about their 'protective' quality and characteristic. they tower and watch, what with their big, gracious heads. they're full of splendor and awe. i do however, go ga-ga for peonies! they're my favorite spring/summertime bloom. nothing makes me happier than a bunch of pink scented peonies greeting me every time i pass thru the dining room. perhaps sunflowers and peonies would make great bedfellows! http://www.pranawellness.org/1/post/2010/06/peony-splendor.html

Susan Unkert says …

Thank you for a lovely story. I've always loved sunflowers also but your words made them even more beautiful.