The History + Meaning of the Sunflower
“Like a single sunbeam on a warm summer day, there is an exuberance and brilliance in a sunflower.” – Unknown
In the flower world, Sunflowers are literally standouts. With heights reaching up to 15 feet and their large flower heads, they command attention, inspiring artists, healers, and lovers of beauty for hundreds of years.
Our most-loved and best-selling charm is also one of our most inspiring. Understanding the sunflower's spiritual meaning is a great way to use your sunflower jewelry for inspiration, motivation, and guidance.
The sunflower is one of the most beloved flowers, blooming in the heat of July and brightening the world all the way through October. Its radiance adds light and color to any room or any outdoor space.
These tall, showy flowers are part of the aster family and a popular part of many gardens. There are nearly 70 different species that largely fit into five types including tall sunflowers, dwarf sunflowers, florist sunflowers, branching sunflowers, and perennial sunflowers. Each brings its own unique beauty and impact.
Although we typically associate them with a distinctive bright yellow color, you can find them in a variety of hues, including white, orange, purple and red.
Sunflowers aren’t just named for their appearance but for their love of the sun. A distinct feature of this standout flower is how it will move to face the sun as it moves through the sky during the day, and then will rotate 180 degrees to greet the morning sun the next day.
Scientists have studied this phenomenon and found that a sunflower’s stem growth is linked to the sun’s movements, lengthening during the day on the eastern side to turn the flower's head to the west, and then reversing the growth pattern to face east the following morning.
History of the Sunflower
This plant has a fascinating history that has taken it full circle around the globe. It was first cultivated as a crop by Native Americans in North America in about 3000 B.C. Some researchers believe that the bright bloom could have even predated corn cultivation.
These Indigenous people made use of these flowers in many different ways. They expressed the seed oil to use in making bread as well as grinding the seed into flour for baking or cooking. They also discovered the great “snackability” of sunflower seeds.
The sunflower was useful in creating dye for textiles and for body painting and other decorative applications. The plant was also used as a remedy for snakebite and as an ingredient in body and hair ointments. Dried stalks were even used in building structures. Nothing went to waste.
The sunflower was later exported to Europe by Spanish explorers around 1500. Initially, Europeans used the bold flower for its decorative qualities, but later, in the 18th century, discovered other applications, such as manufacturing sunflower oil. Russia became a major grower, largely thanks to the Russian Orthodox church, who banned most food oils during the season of Lent, but not this oil.
The sunflower didn’t complete its circle back to the U.S. until the late 19th century when seed companies started to offer its seeds. Today, it is widely used in home gardens as well as agriculture, and even essential oil and medicinal applications. The flower is especially attractive to bees, encouraging the establishment of thriving hives.
Sunflower Meaning and Symbolism
The significance of sunflower symbolism goes back to ancient times. It has its roots in Greek Mythology with its genus name, Helianthus, that includes the Greek words for “sun” and “flower.” Its meaning originates from ancient times. There is an ancient Greek myth of a nymph enamored with the God Apollo, and her jealousy led to Apollo’s true love being buried alive by a disapproving father. Apollo, in his grief, turned his buried love into a sunflower. She continued to adore him even in flower form, following his chariot across the sky each day.
Inspired by this story, these flowers have come to symbolize love, loyalty and long life. They also hold special symbolism for different cultures.
For Native Americans, they symbolized a bountiful harvest and provision in their ability to fill many different needs.
In Chinese culture, it is a symbol for good fortune, health, and a long life.
The Incas in South America primarily focused on the spiritual meaning of the sunflower as a symbol of their sun god, using it to adorn their clothing and headpieces, and using it in their worship ceremonies.
In Europe, they have come to symbolize peace and beauty. It is Ukraine’s national flower, and that meaning and symbolism is spreading worldwide.
Today, the strong spiritual symbolism of the sunflower is a source of comfort to many. Its long bloom cycle represents the endurance of family, friends, and the relationships most important to us. Its love of the sun and bright appearance remind us of hope and optimism even when times are difficult.
Family + Friendship
Because of its enduring bloom cycle, sunflower symbolism represents family, friendship, and the ties of loyalty that bind you together. The people you love — whether they’re family you’re born with or family you choose — are with you forever, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen them or how far apart you are. They’re the people who will always stand beside you, uplift you, and accompany you on the journey of life.
Wear the Sunflower Charm Bangle as a reminder that family and friendship are lifelong bonds and that you are connected to the people you love not just for this moment but for all time. Let sunflower symbolism continually remind you that no matter how far apart you are, those in your heart are always with you. True friends are always with you in spirit.
The Sunflower Bead Charm Bangle is a fresh way to wear this beloved bloom.
Cheer + Happiness
The sunflower is a particularly meaningful symbol right now as society struggles through a multitude of difficulties. Beyond these difficult times, there are always going to be hardships that arise — that’s just a fact of life! Allow the sunflower’s spiritual meaning to provide comfort and serve as a reminder to focus on the upsides.
A flower blooming in July that will continue to brighten our lives through October, sunflower symbolism represents good cheer and a reminder that there is always something to be happy about, even in the darkest moments, even when that thing is as simple as seeing a beautiful flower in passing as you go through your hard day.
The sunflower can be a simple reminder that maintaining a positive attitude can go a long way. Wear the sunflower, and use it as a touchstone throughout your day, not only as a reminder to cultivate connections with the people you love but as a reminder that you have sunshine inside you, too.
Shop Eco-Friendly Sunflower Jewelry
The sunflower is just one of many of the timeless and important symbols in our Alex + Ani collections. Shop our sunflower jewelry or browse our full collection of floral symbols for more meaningful flower pieces. Explore our full collection of meaningful symbols.