Sunflowers 101

  • Posted on 04/03/2018 by Laura

The sunflower is a symbol for pure and lofty thoughts. That’s exactly what I think of when I see a sunflower, staring up at the sun. Sunflowers always fill me with happy thoughts, and they probably fill you with them too. It makes sense that they are also a symbol for loyalty, admiration, and longevity. This flower has a long and interesting history that you wouldn’t expect and probably haven’t even heard about. Sunflowers though they originated in the U.S. weren’t that valued, until they started using the flower’s oil for potato chips.

Let’s backtrack here a bit. USDA Scientist, Gerald Seiler, calls sunflowers “America’s native son.” And he’s right. Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona would grow the flower and use pretty much every part of it for a variety of things. They picked seeds to be eaten as snacks, ground into flour to make bread, and mixed it with other vegetables for meals. It was also used as a purple dye, parts were used for medicine, and dried stalk could be used as building material.

Early Spanish explorers then brought the seeds to Europe. The Russians got ahold of it, seizing the opportunity to develop sunflower oil on a scale not seen before. In the Russian Orthodox Church’s Lenten season they are forbidden to eat or cook with most oils, including butter and lard. But they found a loophole. Sunflowers were a relatively new crop in Europe and for that reason the oil produced from its seeds hadn’t been included on the prohibited foods list.

Russia ran with it. By the early 1800s, Russia had over 2 million acres of farmland solely to cultivate sunflowers. They developed a type for large-scale production and another for direct human consumption. Russia’s government started to fund research and development programs, which ultimately led to North America wanting to hop back onto the sunflower train.

Americans however found that the soybean oil and corn oil they had already been using were cheaper. Health trends are what pushed the change. In the 1990s, trans fats were beginning to get looked upon as unhealthy and “bad for you.” Potato chip companies started to look into replacing the partially hydrogenated soybean oil they used to fry the chips with sunflower oil. Then came a new mutant sunflower, created by Soviet plant breeders, which produced healthy oil that didn’t go bad when used for frying.

So that’s the story of the sunflower. Now we’re not suggesting you use the sunflowers in our bouquets to make your own sunflower oil, but every time we see one of these happy flowers we can’t help but think what an incredible journey the sunflower has had.

Named for its sun-following blooms, the Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) originated in North America and belongs to the daisy family. Sunflowers at Sunshine Bouquet are unique. Not only are they grown in our greenhouses in Colombia, but we ensure they are carefully cut at the right stage, so they will always have the same diameter and size, making it the perfect flower for a bouquet with a sunny disposition.


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