In search of fields of sunflowers

Last year Inta and I decided to take a day trip in search of fields of sunflowers to capture some great photographs. Our timing was off and in the end we missed the season. We swore to each other that we wouldn’t miss the season this year so in June I started scoping out sunflowers. About ten days ago I finally began to see an abundance of sunflowers along the roadsides and so we decided to wait a little bit to allow the flowers to reach their peak and then head out for our day trip. Yesterday that’s what we did. My husband suggested we try the Via Tiberina which runs parallel to Via Flaminia along the Tiber River, just north of Rome. He was right: the Tiberina was filled with sunflowers…..all dried and withered.

We’d missed the moment given the excessive hot, dry days we’d been having the past few weeks.

I had a hunch that if we headed just a bit further north to the Sabine hills in northern Lazio things would be different. Hurray! I was right! Just a bit further north with a little more elevation was all it took to catch the sunflowers in their glory. We started seeing great fields of sunflowers along the Via Salaria but couldn’t find a way off this major artery to get close enough to the flowers to take close up photographs. I finally found an exit right near Rieti and with a lot of winding around and zigzagging through tiny country roads we landed upon a one way, dead end dirt road right in the middle of sunflower fields. There wasn’t a soul in sight so we had the flowers all to ourselves to explore and photograph to our heart’s content.

 

Sunflowers are amazing! Up until the point that they reach their peak the flowers rotate, eastwards only, following the sun. Then at night they rotate back around. This is known as heliotropism.

When you look at the flower you see a huge central portion of the flower surrounded by its yellow petals. With a closer look you see the huge central part is actually composed of hundreds of tightly packed tiny blossoms. The design and placement of these hundreds of tiny blossoms is a work of art and mathematics that leaves you dazzled. “Each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, 137.5°, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head.” (1) I took profile and close up pictures which allow you to better see the blossom configuration.

Sunflowers are native to America and were introduced to Europe in the 16th century. If you’d like to see them in full bloom choose your timing carefully, taking into consideration the weather and where you’ll be looking for them. If you miss out, just head further north. Bear in mind that July is the magic month wherever in Italy you are. I picked one gigantic sunflower to bring home to enjoy, and then once the flower is withered and dried out, to remove its seeds. Sunflower seeds are delicious and full of nutritive properties.

So how do you turn the seeds into something edible and delicious? Here’s a simple recipe:

  • Keep the flower head in a paper bag during the drying process as much of the flower will fall off.
  • Once the flower is completely dried out put on gardening gloves and brush away the dried blossoms.
  • Beneath the blossoms are the seeds. Rub these off the flower and shake over a colander to remove all non-seed flower debris.
  • Place the sunflower seeds in a salt water bath and soak overnight.
  • Drain the seeds and pat dry.
  • Toss the seeds in a small amount of oil (I use olive oil) and spread evenly on a baking sheet.
  • Roast in a 300F oven until thoroughly dry and toasted, no more than 20 to 30 minutes.

They’re then ready to eat, with or without the outer shell. Sunflower seeds make a great snack food and are wonderful in salads!

Flowers take quite awhile to come into full bloom; this one is in its early stages….

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