August is here, and Wisconsin’s sunflowers are all grown up and ready to share their beautiful bursts of brightness with the world! Many of us know that they follow the sun and grow a bit taller than your average flower. But did you know they’ve been to space, or how they could be your new best friend in the kitchen? Take a look at these eight things you never learned about sunflowers, and then find one of their majestic fields near you!
1. Home Grown
Sunflowers are native to North America, dating back as far as 3,000 BCE. The rest of the world didn’t get to experience their beauty until Spanish conquistadors began exporting them almost 5,000 years later.
2. Origin Story
The Greeks believed there once lived a water nymph named Clytie who fell in love with the sun god, Apollo, and gazed at his chariot as it passed overhead each day. He was unaccustomed to being looked at because he glowed too brightly for most people’s eyes, and the attention made him uncomfortable. So, he turned Clytie into a golden flower to avoid her eyes. But even in her new form she followed his path across the sky every morning and every night.
The inner circle of a sunflower is actually thousands of little flowers growing within the larger one, capable of self-pollinating and reproducing.
Fun fact: Once the seeds have been removed, the inner circle can be used as a scrubbing pad for messes too tough for normal sponges.
Sunflowers are widely believed to be a symbol of luck. Picking a sunflower at sunset and wearing it behind your ear is thought to bring luck the following day, and planting them in your garden is supposed to bring good fortune to your household. So, if you’re starting a new job, a new school year, or could just use some luck in your life, strolling through a field of sunflowers twice your height can’t hurt.
Because they faithfully follow the sun each day, sunflowers have come to be a symbol of loyalty as well. Some cultures believe that sunflower oil can be used to capture someone’s allegiance, infusing it in foods, lotions and drinks as a sort of platonic love potion.
5. Endless Love
Sunflowers are one of the longest lasting flowers you can have in your home. They last up to three weeks in a vase, while many flowers whither within days. If you’re looking to show your lasting love for someone, sunflowers could be just the thing. (And once they’ve wilted you have a handy sponge for months to come!)
6. They’ve been to outer space!
In 2012, astronaut Don Pettit brought sunflower seeds on his expedition to the International Space Station. He planted them there in an experimental garden with a few other crops and blogged their progress during his time in space.
7. More than just a sponge
Sunflowers can do more than just clean your kitchen counter. Fields of sunflowers also help us by cleansing the earth of dangerous toxins. They are such a powerful cleaning agent that they’ve even been used to reduce pollution after nuclear disasters.
8. Hans and the Sunflower Stem
The tallest sunflower in the world was 30 feet and one inch tall. It was grown in Germany in 2014 by a man named Hans-Peter Schiffer, marking his third time setting the same record.
Sunflower Fields Forever
Check out four of Wisconsin’s best sunflower fields before the season is over!
A man once planted four miles of sunflowers along the Chippewa River in honor of his wife who died of cancer. After their breathtaking bloom, he sold the sunflower seeds and donated a portion of the proceeds to help cancer patients, advocacy and research. “Babbette’s Seeds of Hope” is still operating, with flowers expected to bloom by mid-August and seeds available online while supplies last.
Pope Farm Conservancy is perhaps one of the best known sunflower fields in Wisconsin. Over half a million sunflowers bloom during their annual Sunflower Days event from August 12-20.
At this family-owned and-operated farm, you can stroll through the fields of sunflowers or gaze at them from above on the Sunflower Deck. And if you didn’t get enough of the cheerful flowers, you can take them home for just a dollar each! For up to three weeks of beautiful fresh flowers, that’s not a bad investment.
At Leatherberry Acres, you don’t just walk through sunflower fields, you lose yourself in them. Their sprawling, five-acre sunflower maze is just one way they add a little adrenaline to classic fall favorites. Kids can learn about honey bees from a zip line, fire pumpkin cannons, and climb the pyramid of straw bales while parents relax under the umbrellas in Tired Park.
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Mara Benowitz is a member of the Discover Wisconsin crew. She’s originally from Uptown Minneapolis and just got back from a semester in France. She’s excited to be back exploring Wisconsin in her senior year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Watch Discover Wisconsin TV Saturday mornings at 10 on Fox Sports Wisconsin. (Twitter: @Discover WI | Instagram: @discoverwisconsin)