The wonder of the simple sunflower

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We grew sunflowers as kids in our back garden. The memory of these plants towering over the fence way above our heads is etched into my head. Recently I’ve rediscovered the wonders of the simple Sunflower from researching into a project i am pitching for. I’ve been pretty amazed at what I have learned along the way including the fact that there is a guerilla gardening day on 1st of May devoted internationally to growing sunflowers.

Here’s just a few of the things you can do with sunflowers… many of which are relevant to this blog in considering ways to live more sustainably. Indeed the sunflower is the symbol of the Vegan Society and licensed for the labelling of sustainable products.

1. Create food products from the seeds – sunflower oil, sunflower butter, make bird seed to feed the birds. Here’s just a few recipes with sunflower oil

2. Create other useful products e.g. latex, biodiesel (as an alternative to petrol)

3. Use the sunflower as a learning tool to teach maths, biology and science: baby sunflowers apparently track the sun’s motion across the sky, a phenomenon called heliotropism. And, the seeds in the head are packed in a particular way to provide the most efficient packing of seeds in the flower head. The spirals this creates in the centre of the seedheads correspond to a mathematical pattern called the Fibonacci sequence. A great example of maths in nature – who’d have thought growing sunflowers could be a maths resource?

4. Extract toxic chemicals from soil including lead, arsenic and uranium – a process called Phytoremediation where plants mitigate the environmental problem without having to get rid of it elsewhere. This was used for Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters apparently.

5. Explore the arts and culture – there are a number of art works associated with sunflowers – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers being the obvious one and more recently, Ai Wei Wei’s installation of millions of hand painted Sunflower seeds at Tate Modern which encapsulates two revolutions in a sea of mass produced art objects – the cultural and the industrial fused for western gaze to contemplate its impact.

All in all sunflowers are a fantastic resource in addition to being quite stunning to look at.

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