What is the meaning of the sunflower?

The meaning of the sunflower is revealed in culture and art.

Let’s discover how sunflowers inspired artists: exploring the sunflowers’ cheerful nature.

The sunny face of the sunflower symbol has captivated cultures for centuries. Just take a look at the sunflower in art. Sunflower designs adorn pottery, tapestries, currencies, postage stamps, and paintings. Sunflower symbols keep showing up at your every turn. 

In a field by himself (yes, I had to do that given the topic–sorry, not sorry), Van Gogh created 11 paintings of sunflowers. In those 11 paintings, there are a total of 87 flowers. That makes him an expert, for sure. In fact, for most people, “The Sunflower” oil painting is how we remember him. Oh, and the ear-drama-thing. 

Vincent van Gogh’s “Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers,” oil on canvas, August 1888. This public domain artwork reproduction is part of a collection compiled by The Yorck Project.

And appropriately he stated:

“The sunflower is mine, in a way.”

–Vincent van Gogh

The meaning of sunflowers is revealed in sunflowers in art.

And this one photo inspired me to write a love story.


Move over, Vincent, this sunflower is mine! Or at least, it’s my find. As I looked at the side of a rusted vehicle, I saw some scratch marks. And then I saw the overspray of paint. Now I cannot unsee the sunflower and the sun.

The special meaning of the sunflower story.

I shot the photo I’ve titled “Legend of the Sunflower” from a small section on the side of a rusted vintage truck. I was looking close-up for details to find an artful image.
When I imagined the sun smiling down on a flower, I knew what I’d title this accidental art at that instant. And having been involved with a book club reading mythology books recently, I longed to write my own mythological story of the sunflower based on that title: “Legend of the Sunflower.”
The sunflower story found in many cultures and eras revolves around devotion, faith, love, strength, optimism, and happiness. Discovering the meaning of sunflowers is best understood in storytelling, where symbolism unfolds for your own interpretation. As I wrote “Legend of the Sunflower” below, I realized such a simple-looking flower inspires so much meaning about life.

A sleeping beauty about to see the sun for the first time. Photo credit, Vineeth Vengolis, sunflowers in India.

The Legend of the Sunflower.

A short and simple love story by Ann Newman.
One day, a newly-opened flower glanced up.
She fell instantly in love with the sun.
A feeling of complete joy overtook her.
In the days that followed, she anxiously woke from sleep and looked east.
All day, she strained her neck, following the line the sun took through the sky.
In the evening, an orange glow appeared on the western horizon.
She wanted to believe that the sun was sending her a message.
Then the sun disappeared.
She closed her eyes. Her head drooped a little. She fell asleep.
A satisfying glow filled her dreams.
For many days, she woke, excited to see the sun.
Some days, clouds blocked the sun.
Those clouds dropped rain.
She decided that the raindrops gave her the strength to stretch herself closer to the sun.
All day, she strained her neck, following the line the sun took through the sky.
Late in the day, a display in the western sky looked like the colors of fire.
She was convinced this was a message of burning love.
Once again, the sun disappeared.
Every day, she devoted herself to following the path of the sun.
Over time, she realized there was less time with her beloved.
The days became cooler.
She couldn’t stretch as well towards the sun.
Her head was heavy.
Birds came and pecked at her cheeks.
She didn’t have the strength to push them away.
A frost came.
The green in her stalk was turning brown.
Her petals shriveled.
The sun was still shining down on her.
But she couldn’t hold her head up to follow any longer.

“Sunflowers,” an oil on canvas painting by the prolific sunflower artist, Vincent van Gogh, 1887. Reproduction image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and added to Wikimedia Commons by ArtDaily.org. 

Winter came.
Then spring.
And finally, summer once again.
Meanwhile, the sun continued, rising in the morning, and setting in the evening.
The sun loved its role.
It sent love to everything it touched.
But it missed that flower.
The sun had fallen in love.
The sun touched the soil every day where the flower had grown the year before.
Eventually, the days warmed up.
Soft balmy breezes replaced cold winds.
The earth crawled with the busyness of bees and bugs.
Grasses sprouted green and grew taller.
On many of those days, the sun painted magnificent colors in the sky at the end of the day.
The sun poured out love.
One morning, just like the others, the sun rose.
But something had changed.
The sun did not see the flower he so longed for.
Instead, the sun saw an entire field of flowers looking up.
They smiled a radiant glow.
And they followed him.

“And they all followed the sun.” A field of sunflowers symbolizes abundance. The sun gives without an expectation and is rewarded with a devoted following. Photo credit to Laslovarga, creative commons license.

What is the meaning of sunflowers?

Sunflower symbolism bursts through this short love story.

Beyond the message of love and devotion, the words that poured out as I wrote the sunflower story reflect feelings I am processing. My mom passed away recently. I have that mix of loving memories that warm me and the pain of separation. Tears did flow as I wrote this. Each time I reread it, my eyes swell just a little. This writing offered a healing moment for me to release my emotions.
As I reread the “legend,” I connect with the cycles of life. There’s the sunflower that represents us. The flower sprouts from a seed, and the stalk stretches towards the sun as it grows. In youth, the sunflower is eager and innocent, and in her thoughts, we sense vulnerability. Later, as is natural in maturity, there is the inevitable decline in aging. Finally, as the flower withers and winter nears, the concept of death brings us front and center to our mortality. We question what we’ve done and what we want to accomplish.
Reflecting on the meaning of sunflowers, I see the sun as giving love without expectation. The message from the flower is optimism, faith, and devotion. The finale of the field of flowers rising from where one flower once stood represents hope, persistence, and rising again. Although there is a seeming end to life, life just changes form in the cycle of living. And the sun offers unity between all elements of the earth, the plants, and the sky. All the individual parts make up the whole.
These positive messages are why so many cultures have their own stories about the sunflower.

Ukraine flowers as a symbol of peace.

Most recently, with the struggles in the attack on Ukraine, sunflowers as art surfaced in mass. To the people of Ukraine, sunflowers represent symbols of peace and are their national flower.  
An agreement between the Soviet Union and Ukraine was entered in 1996 to ban the use of nuclear weapons. Though it seems ironic today, a ceremony commemorating this historic move included the defense ministers from Russia and Ukraine planting sunflowers at the site of the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. 

Ironic to us at this moment in history, but back in 1996, the Soviet Union and Ukraine united in peace with a ban on the use of nuclear weapons. This stamp dates back to 1954 and shows how important the sunflower was to the Soviet Union’s agriculture. And today, both countries (if not in the throes of war) would account for a dominant role in sunflower production.

The sunflower symbol represents an emotional healing symbol, past and present.

More than just a pretty face, the sunflower offers support in so many ways throughout history.
Since the sunflower is native to North America, plains Indians first worked with the flowers for their healing properties. The Indians developed teas and balms made from the leaves to assist in healing various illnesses. In addition, the seeds provided a high-protein food.
Then Spanish explorers took some North American sunflower seeds back to Europe. Peter the Great used sunflowers as ornaments. As the flowers spread throughout Europe, royalty favored the smiling flowers. With a bit of digging online, you’ll find many a Renaissance painting with a bouquet of sunflowers.
The Russians later cultivated the seeds for oil production. Both Russia and Ukraine held top spots for sunflower oil production in the world until the attack, of course.
Today, scientists and naturalists value sunflowers for more than mere decoration. With their deep root system, sunflowers benefit soils by aerating them, absorbing toxins including radioactivity (that’s a little mind-blowing), and acting as a natural herbicide to suppress weed growth. They also assist in regulating wetlands.
Sunflowers are hard workers on top of being a sunny face we smile at seeing.
Most of all, sunflowers help us focus on the positive even in light of the heaviness of current events. Hope is the sunflowers’ gift.

Living aesthetically with sunflowers in art.

Aesthetics is a philosophy of appreciating beauty, not just at the surface but in a soulful way. If you feel connected to the story and artwork of the sunflower, consider this a sign that you’ve just discovered a part of yourself deep inside. Let it show!

Sunflowers in art.

Living spaces touched by sunflower art.



What is it about sunflowers that make you happy?

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