Why do we find flowers so attractive? Often what separates weeds from desired plants are the flowers. (Not always, though, as the much maligned dandelion can attest.) The bright colors clearly help. Intended to entice pollinators, flowers offer many natural attractants—nectar, intricate patterns, stunning colors—that draw both insects and humans to them. Summer is the time for weekend festivals, and thus we found ourselves at Yenser’s Tree Farm for their Sunflower Festival. Located near Lehighton, it’s in some pretty territory. At this time of year it’s dedicated to sunflowers. Perhaps all the more poignant this particular year, given that the sunflower in a national symbol of Ukraine, lots of people were there a warm Saturday afternoon.
The Helianthus genus is actually part of the daisy family. What we call the “flower” is what botanists call a “false flower” because the head of a sunflower consists of many tiny flowers surrounded by a fringe that has petals like other flowers. In other words, a sunflower is a cooperative venture. The name “sunflower” either derives from the disc head looking like the sun, or by their trait of heliotropism. The buds, before blooming, track the sun across the sky. Most remarkably, at night, typically between three and six a.m., they turn back east anticipating the sunrise. This speaks of an intelligence in nature. There is a scientific explanation, of course, having to do with changing growth rates in the stems that allow a kind of swiveling effect. To me it seems to indicate plants are smarter than we give them credit for being. Not having a brain doesn’t mean you can’t be amazing.
The tiny flowers in the head are arranged in a spiral that follows a Fibonacci sequence. I can’t even follow a Fibonacci sequence, so I’m glad to cede intelligence to our plant friends. How can they anticipate where the sun will rise? It’s the anticipation that’s heavy with significance. Sure, using the word “anticipate” is to ignore the garden sprinkler analogy of snapping back once you’ve reached the end of your trajectory, but even so, when a seed bursts from its pod it has to figure out which way is up. Plants move, to give themselves the advantage of sunshine. We plant flowers because we want to be near them, admire them. Plants provide food and oxygen, and we offer nutrients, at least in theory, when we decompose. We’re all part of an intricate system, and we benefit when we turn to face the sun.