In the language of flowers, sunflowers symbolize adoration, loyalty, and longevity.  These cheerful flowers have certainly demonstrated staying power as they've traveled from the Americas to the rest of the world.

Origins and Uses

Sunflowers are native to the Americas and were an essential crop for indigenous peoples.  There is even evidence that sunflowers may have been domesticated before corn! 

Though uses for sunflowers varied from tribe to tribe, the seeds were commonly ground into flour or cracked and eaten as-is.  Seeds were also squeezed for oil, which was then used in baking.  Dried flower stalks were used as a building material, and parts of the plant were used medicinally.

Spread and Domestication

Spanish explorers brought the sunflower back to Europe where it was grown as an ornamental plant.  In the 1700s, however, sunflowers were increasingly grown for their edible seeds and the oil they contained.  Sunflower oil production especially exploded in Russia, where significant research took place to increase oil yield.

These improved Russian sunflower seeds made their way to the United States in the late 1800s.  U.S. farmers began growing sunflowers first for poultry feed and then, in the early 1900s, turned to processing the seeds for oil.  

Sunflower oil and seeds may be agricultural staples, but the cheerful blooms are staples of summery gardens and bouquets.  Here in the florist shop, we're looking forward to designing with sunflowers and other local field flowers for weeks to come!

Flora Michler