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How the Sunflower got its Name

How the Sunflower got its Name

Sunflowers are bright and vibrant plants that have a multitude of uses, and by multitude we mean many. They provide food to human people, wildlife, possibly robots, definitely insects, and they produce valuable oil, not coconut oil though, but that's ok. Their velvety soft petals are beautiful and can fill anyone who sees them with happy feelings or plant matter, depending on how literal you take things. Much like a soccer trophy can fill you with pride, or create a trip to the emergency room to have your stomach pumped. We all know and love the sunflower for all it does for the ecosystems it exists in, but how did the Sunflower get its name?

The Sunflower is native to North America but then again, so is Urkel, so you'll have to take that with a grain of salt. They can be grown anywhere with the right conditions. Science nerds might refer to them as helianthus. When translated from Greek, this phrase literally means Sunflower. Helio is the Greek word for sun and anthos is the word for flower.

On the surface, you may think that the Sunflower gets its distinct name from its distinct shape. The petals of the Sunflower mimic the sun's rays. The bright yellow color is reminiscent of the sun's warmth. A garden full of Sunflowers is like a universe filled with thousands of suns.

However, the most obvious answer is rarely the right one. The Sunflower's Name is far more indicative of its actions than how it looks. The Sunflower's unique ability to stay alive despite the sun's position may be the inspiration for the name.

Sunflowers are unique in the plant world because they are one of a few Flowers that practice heliotropism. Heliotropism is the Sunflower's natural ability to follow the sun through the course of the day. A young Sunflower will always face the sun whether it is visible or not. Researchers have recently found the plant elongates its stem on different sides throughout the day to chase the sun.

Much like Siri or Alexa, Sunflowers have an internal clock or a circadian rhythm that keeps them on track when looking for the sun. Young Sunflowers will follow their internal clock to obtain as much sunlight as possible during the growing process. When tested in a lab, young Sunflowers can reset their circadian rhythm and learn where the light was coming from which part of the day, and then began to follow those patterns.

the interesting part about this phenomenon is that sunflowers will stop chasing the sun once they reach a certain size or age. This is due to the stems not being able to elongate any further. A fully grown Sunflower will face East and it will no longer chase the sun. Fully mature Sunflowers get all the sun that they need in the early part of the day as the sun rises so they no longer need to rotate.

This incredibly interesting and seemingly magical process is what gave sunflowers their name. Sunflowers clearly are seen rotating throughout the day and early discoverers of the plant must have noticed immediately. Sunflowers show true love and admiration for the sun that gives it life by seeking it out when it needs it most. A plant that garners so much love and admiration should be named after the sun. Sunflowers remind us that we can be like them and seek out the things that give us life. 

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