But as truly loves on the close,
As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turn'd when he rose.
Thomas Moore, 1779-1852
The Sunflower is native to America, its home the vast space between northern Mexico and southern Canada. Even 3000 years BC, the wild species was already being cultivated by native American Indians. It was an important source of food and medicine as well as a pigment for body paint.
The Sunflower surely has a rgiht to feel haughty for it is by far the tallest plant in the garden. Its size is not its only asset, however, for every part of the plant is used in some way: the seeds for eating and making oil and soap; the leaves and stalks for fodder and making cloth and even as a substitute for tobacco.
The genus name of Helianthus comes from two Greek words, "helios" meaning sun and "anthos" meaning flower. It was worshipped as the symbol of the sun by the Incas of Peru and later by North American Indians. There is a classical legend that Clytie, a water nymph, was changed into a sunflower having died of a broken heart at the betrayal of Apollo, the sun god.
The sunflower's Italian name is "Girasole" because the flowers really do turn their heads to follow the sun's daily course from east to west.
Vincent van Gogh re-established the sunflower's popularity in the 19th century by using it as motif in its own right. Like no other flower, the sunflower typifies natural vitality and an affinity with primitive nature.