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A tall yellow flower that blooms in mid summer

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Sunflowers, Artistry and the End of Summer

  • Sep 25, 2010

Sunflowers seem, at first glance, to be the emblematic flower of summer. They stand tall, face the world, and reflect the sun which is the origin of life, in many respects. French artist Gustave Caillebotte's Sunflowers on the Banks of the Seine successfully conveys their energy on a midsummer mid-day.

But in Eastern Canada where I live, summer is brief, and the sunflower's time is limited. One of the loveliest and most haunting scenes of the end of the season is The Tangled Garden by the Canadian artist J.E.H. MacDonald. When I first saw it, I found it troubling in the extreme. After living here for a long while, however, I understand the mixture of satisfaction and regret that comes at the end of summer.

The photo is mine, taken without the artistry of Caillebotte or MacDonald. But the way the heavy flowers lean away from each other, and begin their long swoon toward the earth evokes for me, at least, some of the emotions of the beginning of fall.

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September 27, 2010
I haven't grown sunflowers for years, but I'm thinking i will grow them again next year. They are fun to grow. Here in Kentucky we have long enough of a summer for a good sunflower crop. Thanks for the review.
About the reviewer

Ranked #94
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
About this topic


With Helianthus annuus, what is usually called the flower is actually a head (formally composite flower) of numerous florets (small flowers) crowded together. The outer florets are the sterile ray florets and can be yellow, maroon, orange, or other colors. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets, which mature into seeds.

The florets within the sunflower's cluster are arranged in a spiral pattern. Typically each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, 137.5°, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head.

Sunflowers most commonly grow to heights between 1.5 and 3.5 m (5–12 ft). Scientific literature reports that a 12 m (40 ft), traditional, single-head, sunflower plant was grown in Padua in 1567. The same seed lot grew almost 8 m (26 ft) at other times and places, including Madrid. During the 20th century, heights of over 8 m have been achieved in both Netherlands and Ontario, Canada.

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