by Sandy Swegel
Ask me Anything
About gardening that is. That’s what I tell people when I’m looking for blog ideas or a little fun.
So the answer this week in the form of a question was from my friend Jim:
“Why do sunflowers follow the sun but then all die facing the same way?”
That was a puzzler. I had to look that one up…fortunately there was just an article in August in the journal Science.
Sunflowers do follow the sun as long as they are still growing. The start off facing east and follow through the day facing west at sunset. Overnight, they grow and face east by sunrise.
This has long been known to gardeners and scientists…but Science answered WHY they do it. Because flowers that face the sun are warmer and attract more pollinators than those facing away from the sun. Well, that’s a good way to make sure you are pollinated. Very clever Mother Nature.
But then there’s the question of why they all face East when they die. It’s actually much simpler than that. Sunflowers only follow the sun as long as they are growing. Once they reach their full mature height, they no longer grow taller. The main stem thickens and hardens and no longer moves with the sun. It stops in a position facing East. So that’s naturally where it dies. Why? Again, it’s just to entice the pollinators. An east-facing flower warms up earlier and stays warmer longer during the day when most pollinators are feeding.
The one exception to this rule? Wild sunflowers. They have so many small flowers at all kinds of angles, they face every which way. Their leaves tend to follow the sun while growing, but the flowers are all over the place.
So, thanks for the question, Jim.
Next! Ask me anything you’ve wondered about gardening.