We are saying goodbye to the year of the sunflower. What is my favorite flower? A sunflower. The National Garden Bureau has established 2021 as the year of the sunflower.
My brother, Allen, planted a field of sunflowers this year on our 256 Farm. We got to enjoy watching the beautiful flowers grow. I also had the chance to teach my children that a sunflower’s purpose is more than just being a beautiful flower. Sunflowers serve an agricultural purpose and have quite a meaningful life cycle.
There are many varieties of sunflowers but we planted the Clearfield variety. This variety grows to over 6 feet tall and stands very stately in beauty and it grows well in south Alabama climate fluctuations. Actually, it flourishes in our heat and humidity. If you sit back and watch the life cycle of the sunflower you experience all kinds of emotions. You feel the excitement with the germination, determination when it grows tall, and complete awe-struck when the flower reaches full growth (which only takes about 100 days) and you experience the colorful beauty in the gorgeous flower. But what fascinates me the most is watching the field come to life.
The sunflowers attract families and children taking pictures, bees, and pollinators with lots of activities, deer, and sometimes even some snakes. But there is life also to the flower. You get to watch the flower as it slowly and carefully follows the sun. The movement of the sunflower is called heliotropic which means they turn to follow the sun. It is what draws me in as if I am watching a motion picture. The whole field of flowers knows that it draws its’ energy and life from the sun and it follows the sun around throughout the day instinctually and completely choreographed together.
But, when the beauty has passed and the flower looks dead, its purpose begins. Most sunflower growers are growing the crop for oil, seed production, or for a cut flower. We grew our sunflowers for the birds. Literally – for the birds. As the flower dies, the head begins to bow over and protect the seeds that it has grown in the head. That protective measure is to keep Mother Nature from directly affecting the drying out process. The flower now knows to bend over and hover over the seeds to prevent rain from counteracting the drying out time. The flower will sit in that position for weeks and wait until the seed is dry. We have cut rows in between sections to help with accessibility into the field but ultimately, we will be preparing to draw in the migrating doves. The flower head will dry out and the seeds will fall to the ground. And guess what doves like to eat? Yes…sunflower seeds. And guess who will be waiting for them? My husband and children because one of their favorite grilled foods is the dove.
What is so amazing is a plant, a beautiful flower, will end with a delicious carnivorous family meal simply by attracting the bird to the by-product as a food source. But don’t miss out on the beautiful show that the sunflower puts on as it prepares for its ultimate purpose. I can see why this flower was chosen for 2021 and I am not sure the 2022 flower or rather any other flower of the year will live up to this great legacy.