Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sunflower: A Study

Library Sunflowers Close Up

The sunflower.  The sunflower is such an iconic flower.  Most who can little distinguish one flower from another can call the sunflower by name. 

The genus name of sunflower is Helianthus which comes from the Greek "helios" meaning sun and "anthos" meaning flowers. The sunflower is native to America and Peru. Ancient Peruvians used the sunflower as a symbol to worship the god of day. It has been a muse to many including Vincent van Gogh.  In the language of flowers the sunflower holds several emblematic meanings. Let's explore them together in this study.

In the quaint Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway the symbolic meaning for the sunflower depends on it's height.  If it is the dwarf sunflower, adoration is its claim.  The tall sunflower equates to haughtiness.  The Secret Language of Flowers by Shane Connolly also echoes these sentiments however for the dwarf sunflower he adds, 'Your devout admirer.'

Haughtiness is also the symbolic name given by Sheila Pickles in The Language of Flowers.  She quotes Thomas Moore in her explanation,

"No, the heart that has truly lov'd never forgets,
But as truly loves onto the close,
As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turn'd when he rose."
Haughtiness seems to be prescribed because of the sunflower's great height compared with other garden flower friends.  But being haughty is not all the sunflower represents.
In Flora's Lexicon by Catharine Waterman, she prescribes "lofty and pure thoughts." She notes that in its native of Peru and Mexico the sunflower can grow to 20 feet in height! I love this quote Waterman includes from John Clare's poem Rustic Evening...
"Where rustic taste at leisure trimly weaves
The rose and straggling woodbine to the eaves,
And on the crowded spot that pales enclose
The white and scarlet daisy rears in rows,
Training the trailing peas in cluster neat,
Perfuming evening with a luscious sweet,
And sunflowers planting for their gilded show,
That scale the windows' lattice ere they blow,
And, sweet to habitants within the sheds,
Peep through the crystal panes their golden heads."
In Henry Phillips' Floral Emblems the sunflower is prescribed as ''false riches."  He states that the sunflower is so associated with false riches "because gold of itself, however abundant, cannot render a person rich who is poor in spirit."  He also provides a delightful quote from Barton...
"Uplift, proud sunflower, to thy favorite orb
That disk whereon his brightness loves to dwell;

 And as thou seem'st his radiance to absorb,
Proclaim thyself the garden's sentinel."
Finally, The Language of Flowers Symbols and Myths by Marina Heilmeyer provides a completely different view of the sunflower which I greatly admire.  Heilmeyer marks the sunflower as a "vital source of food, medicine and oil; natural vitality; loyalty; pride; devotion..." She comments on how the American Indians were cultivating the wild sunflower species dating back to 3000 BC.  They used it as an "important source of food and medicine as well as a pigment for body paint." Heilmeyer also states, "In Christian iconography, the sunflower signified believers' devotion to the Catholic church.  Like the flower that always grows towards the light - towards the divine sun- it represents the devout soul striving towards god."
I feel each lexicon has its place.  Sometimes one may feel haughtiness or false riches is needed.  Other times one may want to express loyalty and devotion.  The yin and yang of this lovely, brilliant flower is delightfully welcomed.