There is something about sunflowers. A giant golden flower, waving its head in the breeze and following the sun as it tracks across the sky, evokes a sense of happiness. It is a simple flower in some ways, yellow petals surrounding a dark, seed filled centre, and yet so striking against a blue summer sky. It is no wonder that tourists flood to the Southern Downs at this time of year searching for the perfect sunflower snap.
And so it was that Bec and I set off in mid December to follow the Sunflower Trail for our own sunflower snaps. There is a suggested route to follow, however sunflowers are not always planted in the same field every year, and so we found the best option was to ask at the Tourist Information Centre in Warwick. The lady manning the desk that day was incredibly helpful, directing us towards two fields that were currently in flower.
Sunflowers originated from the Americas and have been grown for their seeds for many, many years. Each flower is actually thousands of tiny little flowers and can produce up to 2,000 seeds. There are about 70 different species of sunflowers in a range of colours and sizes, with some flowers measuring up to 30 cm in diameter. Incredibly, the tallest sunflower ever recorded was over 9 metres tall! I don’t fancy trying to pick that one!
One of the most interesting things about sunflowers is their ability to soak up toxins from the soil. After nuclear reactors were destroyed by a tsunami in Japan, millions of sunflowers were planted to soak up the radioactive waste. I don’t know how that affected the plants but I expect they wouldn’t have been much good after that.
On the Southern Downs sunflowers bloom from December to March and flowers last about 3-4 weeks. Apart from getting directions, you can generally spot a sunflower field by the number of cars parked on the side of the road. It is important to remember that the sunflower fields are indeed a farmer’s livelihood, so please do be respectful. Some fields do have open access and you can walk along the designated tracks to get a close up view. Otherwise, you can take just as great photos from outside the fence.
We actually have a collection of sunflower seeds that we bought from the Diggers Club which we hope to plant in the garden somewhere. The collection includes 4 varieties: Prado Red, Moonwalker, Giant Russian and Van Gogh. The Giant Russians are so named because they can grow up to 3 metres, so they’ll have to go at the back of the garden bed and I might even have to stake the flowers. Apparently they are the best variety for edible sunflower seeds though. The Moonwalker has flowers that are much paler in colour while the Prado Red starts out a burnt-orange to reddish colour and slowly fades to yellow. The Van Gogh looks like the traditional tall sunflower with a large golden head and is obviously named after van Gogh’s famous set of paintings.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is one of the most well-known post-impressionist artists and although he had a quite tragic life, experiencing bouts of mental illness and little success, he is considered to have had a significant influence in the development of modern art. He is possibly most famous for his sunflower paintings. Sunflowers held special significance for van Gogh. He believed that they communicated gratitude. Perhaps this is what we see as we observe the sunflowers following the sun, and then bowing their heads in gratitude to its life-giving warmth. It certainly is an attitude our world could do with a lot more of.
You can read more about van Gogh here and perhaps we can all spread a little more gratitude by planting a few sunflowers. They can grow just as well in a pot as they do in the field.
There’s nothing more beautiful than nature early in the morning.Vincent van Gogh