God created flowers on the third day.
On the fourth day he created the sun, moon, and stars.
On the sixth day He created humankind. Genesis, Chapter One
According to the Creation story in Genesis, God made sunflowers before He created the sun, moon, and stars and before He created humans. When Greek humans noticed that these yellow flowers turned toward the sun, they used their words “helios” meaning sun and “anthos” which means flower. Besides admiring sunflowers for their beauty and symbolism, people grow them for food, seeds – one sunflower can produce up to 1,000 seeds- and oil. Besides nurturing the body, sunflowers nurture the soul, symbolizing spirituality, beauty, delight, joy, and gratitude to their Creator.
Sunflowers Leave Biological Fingerprints Like We Humans Do
Each sunflower’s head is composed of smaller flowers and the outside petals are called ray florets. Ray florets on the outside don’t reproduce, but the disc florets in the middle of the sunflower head is where the seeds develop and this middle part of the flower has male and female sex organs. Each disc floret produces a seed. Sunflowers can self-pollinate or use wind blown pollen or insect introduced pollen.
Sunflowers face east in the morning and follow the sun as it journeys across the sky. At night when the sun sets, the sunflowers face east again, waiting for the sun to reappear. When the sun reappears they resume their daily journey.
Like people, sunflowers get old and as they age, they stop moving and always face east. They stand still to allow insects to pollinate them to make new sunflowers. The new sunflowers repeat the pattern of their parent plants, creating generations of joy for humans, birds, and other appreciators of sunflowers.
Sunflower History Matches Any Human Family Tree
Scientific evidence suggests that Native Americans in contemporary New Mexico and Arizona cultivated wild sunflower plants about 3,000 B.C. to use for food, medicine, dye, and oil. Some archaeologists believe that Native American cultivated wild sunflowers before they turned their attention to cultivating corn.
Around 1500, the New World of the Americas made an important contribution to the Old when Spanish explorers brought sunflower seeds back to Europe with them. They planted their exotic New World seeds in ornamental gardens in Madrid, Spain around 1510, and later the English and French brought sunflower seeds to their countries. Sunflowers spread through Europe and people planted them for their decorative beauty and their tasty seeds. British sunflower enthusiasts cultivated them for their oil in the early 1700s, and by 1716 had issued a patent for the process of pressing sunflower oil from seed.
Tsar Peter the Great of Russia spotted sunflower plants in Holland and took some home with him to Russia and by the early 19th Century, Russia had developed a species of sunflowers to produce oil and another to produce seeds for people to eat. Soon the Russian government established sunflower production programs, and Russian farmers grew sunflowers by the millions of acres. By the late 19th century, Russian immigrants brought sunflower varieties they had developed back to the United States, the home of their ancestors.
Sunflower acreage in the United States increased in the late 19th century and this increase produced more sunflower hybrids that in turn resulted in higher sunflower oil content and great resistance against disease. The peak sunflower production years in the late 1970s resulted in five million acres of sunflowers to meet a strong European demand for sunflower oil. In 2019, United States farmers planted around 1.38 million acres of sunflowers.
Using Sunflowers Then and Now
The seeds of wild sunflowers that Native Americans gathered looked quite different from modern sunflowers. Native Americans picked sunflowers that had many heads and tiny seeds. Modern American sunflower pickers grow single stalk, single head sunflowers with large seeds, although Native American experimenters increased seed size by 1,000 percent.
Native Americans used the seeds of wild sunflowers for food and they used the plants and flower heads for medicine and in ceremonies. They made bread and cakes from crushed ground seed and used sunflower oil to make bread as well. They mixed sunflower meal with vegetables, and they ate cracked sunflower seed for snacks. They made a coffee like drink by steeping roasted sunflower hulls in boiling water.
When Native Americans were not using sunflowers for food and drink, they converted parts of them into yellow and purple pigments for dyes for coloring cloth, pottery and body painting. They used sunflowers for medicinal purposes including wart removal, sunstroke treatment, snake bite, body ointments, to cauterize and heal wounds, and to treat chest pains. Mexican peoples used an infusion of sunflower leaves to soothe chest pain. The Cherokee used the mixture to treat kidney trouble and the Dakota used it to soothe chest pains and breathing problems. Some tribes used dried sunflower stalks for building materials.
Sunflowers of the Spirit
On droopy days when the sun doesn’t shine and your spirit languishes in the shade, look at a sunflower and both of you seek the light. Ailing sunflowers can be revived with more sunlight, water, fertilizer and loving care. Ailing human spirits can be revived by realizing that although the Aztecs of Peru supposedly worshipped sunflowers and placed golden sunflower images in their temples, we worship the God who created sunflowers, the Aztecs and us.
Along with the sunflowers, we can hold our heads high in recognition and appreciation of God, the source of our being and joy. We as God’s sunflowers, can reflect joyful light from God’s face. God, help us be God powered sunflowers and always seek Your light and reflect it to others.