Girasoles: Growing Symbols

Girasol is the Spanish word for sunflower – that tall, strong, proud flower notable for turning its face toward the sun – from the verb girar, to turn, and the noun el sol, the sun. (Similarly, the French word for sunflower is tournesol, from the verb tourner, to turn.) Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia this past week, people around the globe have been turning their attention to this, the national flower of Ukraine, and seeing it, perhaps for the first time, as a symbol of strength, determination, resilience, and hope.

As London-based journalist Jennifer Hassan wrote in the Washington Post this week, “In recent days, people around the world have been adding bright yellow sunflower emoji to their social media profiles and wearing sunflowers in their hair and on their clothing. Some are planting sunflower seeds….  Artists are painting sunflowers, and those who once visited Ukraine and its endless fields of yellow sunflowers are sharing photographs of the scenes they captured there.”

A sunflower field in Ukraine (stock photo)

Some members of the international online watercolor group I belong to [google: Lois Davidson Art] have been painting poignant watercolors of this striking flower, both realistic and abstract, this week. I, too, have been painting sunflowers every evening, in an effort to improve my watercolor skills — and in solidarity with Ukraine.

One of the small watercolor paintings I did this week

Flowers, we all know, cannot stop bombs or bullets. But what this majestic flower symbolizes – especially determination and resilience – can. Now when I  look at sunflowers I see metaphors for strength.

A year ago at this time, in the garden of my previous apartment here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I was surprised by the towering sunflowers that grew where I’d casually tossed some seeds not long before. Their stalks, as thick as broom handles, grew taller than I; their joyful, yellow-petaled flowers, as big as my face. And, yes, these sturdy, resilient plants spent their day, I observed, slowly tracking the sun, a behavior called heliotropism, from which they obviously derived their strength.

The sunflowers I planted last year

Sunflowers, I learned, originated in the Americas in 1,000 B.C. and have been cultivated for centuries as a valuable food source. With the European exploration of the New World, the flower’s popularity spread, as the rest of the world began to appreciate its beauty and sustenance. Today, according to the website, the sunflower “remains a highly recognized flower, admired for its sunny charm and delightful disposition. These beauties are also still sourced for their seeds, as well as oils used for cooking and skin emollients.”

I also learned that among their many other attributes and symbolisms, sunflowers represent peace as well. When the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, the then-new nation of Ukraine held the third-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. In 1996 Ukraine committed to total nuclear disarmament; and to honor the occasion, representatives from the United States, Ukraine, and Russia planted sunflowers where nuclear missile silos had been.

Now Russia is threatening to use nuclear weapons in its new war of unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. Saber-rattling is one thing, but rattling nuclear weapons is quite another, in my view. The whole world should be alarmed.

I, for one, choose to take a lesson from Ukraine’s national flower and look to the light for resilience, strength, and hope. Call me Girasol.

This Howard Zinn quote I found on Facebook the other day helps to express my stance: “…The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

28 thoughts on “Girasoles: Growing Symbols”

  1. Bonnie, Wise and wonderful words and information I did not know. I have always been in awe of the sunflower’s “in your face” presence. One of God’s spectacular creations.

  2. I love the Howard Zinnia’s quote you ended with. Thanks for your inspiring piece, Bonnie, and keep up the great work! Marge

  3. Thank you Bonnie, especially for the Zinn quote. This is a time of anguish and sorrow for my family and countless others. Who knows what the next days will bring. Any light, any hope is welcome.

    1. Yes, dear Jen — so much anguish and sorrow. It’s hard to do, I know, but we must keep striving to look toward (for?) the light source. Abrazos, BB xx

      1. Yes…we never quite know what for. That light is never quite clear and mostly we can only vaguely sense it, especially in times of sorrow. But we know it is good and that it is there. To loose sight of it altogether is to finally give in to cynicism and despair and become lost. We all need reminding at times.

        I looked up the full quote. The first part is prescient now as well. What power do words have that they are such a powerful balm for the human psyche? Thanks again for the quote and double abrazos back.

        “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.” –Howard Zinn

    1. Thank YOU, querida Kim, for your feedback. So glad you liked it and got the connections. Sometimes when I write I feel as if I’m making a patchwork throw-quilt! 🙂

  4. Wonderful post of memory, symbols, hope and dedication to the light! Great Zinn quote. Thank you, Bonnie.

  5. Dear Bon,

    I did not know the connection between Ukraine and sunflowers, or all the facts you provide about the flower. I do love the way they look. Your picture is wonderful. When I first saw it, I thought it was a Victorian tile or an antique print. You could sell it as a print, and it would make a lovely greeting card. The yellow and the blue are perfect together. Thank you for another great post.


    1. Thank you, dearest Paul, as always. Maybe, as a class exercise, you could have each of your students draw a sunflower and write a short, personal essay about what this flower means to them. Just a thought… — xx

  6. Bonnie, everyone’s already said it better than I could, so I’d just like to ask, Can we find some of those fantastic sunflower seeds when I get there?! Is it legal to transport seeds, I wonder?

    1. Be, I think it IS illegal to transport seeds. And the seeds that I used last year I’d found in an old jar on someone’s garden shelf. It was pure luck (or magic!) that they grew. I’d suggest you order your sunflower seeds from Burpee. I happen to have their new catalog right here! Try ordering their “Busy Bee”. Here’s Burpee’s #: 800-888-1447.

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