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We have three types of flowers growing in Robbins Farm Garden, each for three reasons:

  • partly because each is a pleasure to look at,
  • partly because parts of each are fun to eat, and
  • partly because each helps us manage some of the bugs that come visit the garden, both harmful ones and helpful ones.

( For more specifics about such bugs, check the notebook on Garden Bugs in the column to the left. )


The tallest of the three flowers in the garden is the sunflower, a giant from the Daisy family. When sunflowers reach their full height, they will often be taller than many of you — sometimes even taller than your parents!

Did you know that for plants to produce the food we eat, they need light from the sun? It's true. You can read all about that in our notebook on photosynthesis.

The sunflower has the great distinction of being that plant that's named for the Sun. That's partly because it looks like the Sun — to many people, at least — big, round, and yellow. But it's also because, while sunflowers are young and growing, their faces actually follow the Sun.

Come to the park early some morning, just as the Sun is rising. Look which direction the sunflowers are facing. Most, if not all, will be facing east, directly towards the Sun. Come back later in the day, in the late afternoon. In what direction do you think they will be facing?

They will be facing west, again directly towards the sun. Each day as the Sun comes up, sunflowers greet it in the east, then follow it as it moves across the sky, bidding it adieu as it sets in the west. Because of that, the French name for sunflower is tournesol, or "turn to the sun."


Sunflowers got their start in Mexico, but are now grown and loved around the world. They are considered by many to be the most cheerful of all plants, a symbol of light, warmth, hope and good will. They are the state flower of Kansas and the national flower of the Ukraine, in eastern Europe. Vincent van Gogh's most famous set of still life paintings was of sunflowers.

In the garden, sunflowers attract bees and butterflies that help with pollination, lady beetles that eat harmful bugs, and ants that herd aphids over to the sunflowers, keeping them away from other, more vulnerable plants.

The part of the sunflower we eat is the seeds. We stay away from the petals because, for us, they are poisonous.

Sunflower seeds can be eaten raw, toasted, or baked. They make a good snack or a tasty addition to salads, to breads, cookies, muffins, even pancakes and waffles. And birds love them. Sunflower seeds are very popular as bird feed.