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Sunflower Meaning and Symbolism

sunny fields of sunflowers with the ocean in the background

Take one look at a sunflower and you can’t help but feel a lil’ bit happier. With bright petals and big blooms, these flowers make a smiling statement. But don’t think sunflowers are simply for show!

Sunflowers come with a rich history and present-day symbolism. We’re going to dive into the meanings behind these beautiful flowers, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself loving them even more. And next time you’re making a flower order online, you can know the meaning behind these sunny blooms!

Origin of the Sunflower’s Name

If you send sunflowers to a loved one, you’re very likely sending a member of the Helianthus annuus species. While this may sound like a mouthful, the meaning behind this flower’s scientific name is quite interesting.

The genus name Helianthus comes from two Greek words: helios and anthos. Helios means “sun” and anthos means “flower”. If you think this name was inspired by the bloom’s sunny resemblance, you’re not alone. However, this name actually refers to the plant’s ability to follow the sun.

The species name annuus refers to the plant’s annual growth habit. If you need a refresher on plant biology, annual plants only live for one year.

Cultural Significance of Sunflowers

Just like each flower is unique, so is each culture! Here are some of the ways sunflowers play an important role to people around the world.

Native Americans

While we all know this plant as a sunflower, it existed long before humans gave it this name. Sunflowers first sprouted up in North America, and it wasn’t long before Native Americans began utilizing this plant for food and medicine.

Archaeological reports suggest that Native Americans were using sunflowers sometime around 3000 BC. Indigenous people ground the sunflower seeds into meal for bread, ate the seeds as snacks, and pressed the seeds for sunflower oil. They also used these flowers to produce stunning purple and yellow dyes.

Over time, Indigenous people began cultivating the plant to produce larger seeds and blooms. These breeding efforts started the development of the tall, single stem sunflowers that people grow on farms today.

Ancient Greeks

If you like a good myth, you’ll love the story of Clytie and Apollo. While there are many different versions of this story from Greek mythology, they all explain how sunflowers formed and why they turn towards the sun.

Clytie the water nymph fell head over heels for the sun god Apollo. But don’t think this is a nice love story. While Clytie followed Apollo as he traveled through the sky, the god barely even noticed Clytie. Despite his lack of interest, Clytie continued to crush. She spent her days gazing into the sky while refusing to eat and only drinking dew.

If you’ve ever seen someone taken over by unrequited love, you know how hard it can be to watch. The other Greek gods eventually took pity on Clytie and decided to put her out of her pain by turning into a sunflower. Part of Clytie still remained in this new form, and that’s why these flowers track the sun as it moves through the sky.

Van Gogh

While many artists have used sunflowers as inspiration for their work, Vincent Van Gogh is the most famous. This painter loved the cheerful yet often unrefined nature of the sunflowers. They were beautiful, yet they didn’t have the delicate petals of flowers like roses and tulips.

Van Gogh sought to be known as the painter of sunflowers, and we think he accomplished his goal. He painted various works titled “Sunflowers” which included flowers in a vase as well as close-ups of dying blooms. He hoped that all of these works would symbolize gratitude.

Chinese Culture

In Chinese culture, sunflowers symbolize good luck and vitality. Giving sunflowers is a sign of wishing someone a happy and healthy year. They also stand for wishing some a long life.

Symbolism and Meanings of Sunflowers

Not only are these flowers gorgeous, but they also hold a deeper symbolism. Check out these various sunflower meanings.


If you’re looking for a new way to show someone you adore them, gather a bouquet of sunflowers! Many people think these flowers represent loyalty, due to the flowers’ ability to follow the sun. And if you’re crushin’ on someone new, send them a sunflower to let them know your feelings….just don’t go all Clytie on them.


Is there a flower more cheerful than a sunflower? We don’t think so. When you look at these flowers, you can’t help but smile. These bright blooms are the perfect way to celebrate joyful events like a loved one’s graduation or birthday.

Good Luck

If someone needs a bit of good luck in their life, send a sunflower their way! People tie these blooms to good fortune, so they’re perfect for events like moving into a new home or starting a new job.

Sunflowers Can Attract Bees

Not only do sunflowers lead to smiles when you send them to a loved one, but they also create quite the buzz outside. The bee buzz, that is. Sunflowers are one of the flowers that bees love.

Bees of all kinds flock to these flowers to enjoy nectar and pollen. In case you didn’t know, each sunflower is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers! The good news is that each of these flowers contains nectar and pollen to nourish our little bee friends.

Not only do these flowers provide some much-needed nourishment, but they can also protect these important pollinators from diseases. Research shows that honeybees and native bees who consume sunflower pollen are protected from various pathogens. Think of sunflower pollen as an immune booster for bees.

Along with attracting bees, sunflowers also draw in other pollinators like butterflies and hoverflies. If you want to support these important creatures, plant some sunflowers!


What does a sunflower mean in love?

Sunflowers show your adoration and loyalty to a partner, family member, or close friend. Plus, they will surely brighten your loved one’s day. If you need some help styling your blooms, check out our tips for arranging sunflower bouquets.

What do sunflowers do on a cloudy day?

If sunflowers track the sun as it moves throughout the sky, what do they do on a cloudy day? While some people claim that sunflowers face each other to combine their energy, this is an old wives tale.

While the sun isn’t as bright on cloudy days, it’s still in the sky! Therefore, sunflowers still practice heliotropism and follow the sun’s path.

Are sunflowers male or female?

Want to know one of the coolest sunflower facts? Sunflowers are actually made up of hundreds of tiny flowers!

The head of the blooms contains tiny disk flowers and each “petal” is actually a ray flower. Each disk flower contains both male and female reproductive organs, making it a perfect flower. The ray flowers don’t contain any reproductive organs; they simply exist to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Do sunflowers talk to each other?

While you may think flowers are individual plants without much thought, researchers have found these plants talk to each other! Sunflowers use their root systems and surrounding soil bacteria and fungi to communicate with each other.

Sunflowers are aware of each other’s existence, and they typically collaborate for the greater good. Two adjacent plants can work together to split their food source so both flowers thrive. However, some plants are selfish and will absorb all the available nutrients so the other flower struggles.

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