Whether towering giants or of the diminutive varieties, sunflowers are like living sunshine. Beautiful, bold and with a light that seems to shine from within, they do more than just grace our gardens and bring us joy (not to diminish the value of that!).
Sunflowers provide food for bees, various types of flying insects, and hummingbirds before they even set seed. After seeds form, pretty much anyone and anything will eat them! I’ve seen raccoons, rabbits, deer, birds (of course) and every type of small rodent munch on ours. My favorite thing to do with a bouquet of sunflowers after they’ve wilted is to put them onto the top of the fence in front of our bay windows. Squirrels from nearby will sit down and pull the seeds out, chomping them to bits right in front of us as we watch. What’s really funny is when they eat their food while we’re sitting down to our own meals inside the house. Then it becomes a question of who’s watching whom!
Beyond food for lots of different animals, sunflowers do so much more. They provide oil which is now being used in the skincare industry as a vitamin-rich skin conditioning ingredient. The food industry is expanding their use of sunflower oil as well since it requires less processing (making it cheaper to use) and is a higher quality frying oil.
Sunflowers, along with some other types of plants, were also used at Chernobyl to help clean up radioactive waste after the reactor disaster in 1986, in a process called phytoremediation. Because they were so successful in the experiment at Chernobyl, the process was repeated at the Fukushima meltdown site. Turns out these little workhorses are incredibly efficient at drawing out the elements cesium and strontium from the soil (the radioactive bits).
Thankfully we don’t have to worry about radioactive soil here and just grow sunflowers to enjoy their beauty and watch birds that flock to them. But isn’t cool to know that they’re so multi-talented!