“MY SUN FLOWERS BLOOM”, chats BK on WhatsApp; luring me into taking a fresh look at his Farm House.
‘Road to a friend’s house is never long ’. Dass’s Bagicha* of Panthaghati appears a stone’s throw from my Cottage of Shantlok, Jhakoo.
The sunflower is often used as a symbol of green ideology, in much the same way that the red rose symbolizes socialism or social democracy.
Fascinated by the majestic surajmukhi, envious, I ask for the ‘beauty’ in my garden. Transplanting the pulled-out nursery; as also a sprinkling of the heaps of seed, never worked – without full sun.
Sunflowers need sun. They grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil with lots of half-rotted grass.
Sunflower (surajmukhi) got its name because it keeps bending towards the sun. Although, most trees and plants bend towards the sun for sunlight, the bending of the sunflower towards the sun can be seen with the naked eye.
They are grown in gardens for beauty. “Flowers of different radiance and luster can be obtained with good traction and compost”, tells Dass.
The most common is yellow. The petals are yellow and in the center, there is a black-yellow or blueberry. What is commonly called a flower is the composite flower of several florets (small flowers) clustered together.
The belief is that at sunrise, most of the sunflowers face east. During the day, they follow the sun from east to west, while at night they return to an easterly orientation’; & this movement is represented by a flexible region of the stem just below the bud. A nod in affirmative is, however, awaited from Dass.
- My curiosity aroused, I get back to literature:
- Wild sunflowers generally do not face the sun; when mature, the flowering head can be oriented in many directions.
- Some recently developed plant verities have drooping heads. Such flowers are less attractive to gardeners as ornamental plants but are preferred by farmers because they reduce damage from birds and some plant diseases. However, for commercial farmers, the sunflower, like any other unwanted plant, is often considered a weed.
- Sunflower can also be used to remove toxic elements like lead, and uranium from the soil.
- ‘Sunflower’ is an annual plant. Some are one year old and some are perennial; also varying in size.
- The florets within the cluster of flowers are arranged in a spiral pattern. The interconnected spirals produce the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head. Edible oil is obtained from the seeds and the cake used as livestock feed.
- They were first cultivated as a food source, with early Americans using the seeds to crush into flour for bread. The seeds were also eaten as a quick snack.
- Sunflower is native to Central America, but today it is grown in many countries including Russia, America, Britain, Egypt, Denmark, Sweden, and India. According to one school of thought, in Spain, people tried to suppress sunflower cultivation because of its association with solar religion and war.
- Sunflower varieties have interesting names like Autumn beauty, Dwarf Sunspot, Evening sun, Indian Blanket Hybrid, Irish Eyes, lemon queen, Mongolian Giant, Orange sun, Peach passion, Red sun, Ring of fire, Skyscraper, Sunny Hybrid, Teddy bear, Valentines, Velvet queen;& other species.
- The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine. It is also the state flower of the US state of Kansas; and one of the flowers of the city of Kitakyushu, Japan.
- The sunflower is also a symbol of the Vegetarian Society.
- During the late nineteenth century, the flower was used as a symbol of the Aesthetic movement; Van Gogh’s most famous ‘Sunflowers’.
- Sunflowers typically grow to a height of between 1.5 and 3.5 meters (8–12 ft); their yellow flowers are the largest among garden flowers. The heads can be 7 cm to 15 cm wide.
Dass tells “one, very large plant,12 ft in height, is loaded with more than 55 no’s of 7 inches dia., each, flower”.
He is the proud grower. Both, he and his wife Uma do have green fingers. I wonder if this mammoth plant of its kind, with its massive foliage and colossal upright flowers, is the ultimate in Shimla and the suburbs.
Sunflowers symbolize unwavering faith and unconditional love. Because of their association with the sun, they are known for being “happy” flowers; informal, and optimistic.
“True friends are like bright sunflowers that never fade away, even over distance and time.” – Marie Williams Johnstone
With inputs from Er. B K Dass Sharma
His Farm House goes by Bagicha*
Prof. (Er.) Chander P Mahajan is an art critic & a free lance journalist. The Environmentalist stays in Shimla and Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, India.