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She is a Sunflower

“She is a sunflower! She brings hope to people”

-Avijeet Das

Let’s face it, we all need to feel a little golden ray of happiness and hope right now. This is why… I bring you…………. sunflowers.

Is it the colour of their bright golden mustard and butter yellow heads that initially attracts us?  Alternatively, could it be the shape of the head, wide open and friendly, a smile plastered across the face? Perhaps, it’s the perceived strength of the perfectly green stem and generous fleshy leaves. Most people I meet love sunflowers. They appear to be an emblem of warmth, happiness and hope to people.   Vincent van Gogh painted many sunflower scenes, vases full of them and also fields choc-a-bloc with colour. The juxtaposition of rich buttery yellow and deep purplish blue, remains embedded in my mind without me having looked at one of his paintings for many years.

You may have heard that a young sunflower faces east at dawn and greets the sun, then slowly turns west as the sun moves across the sky. Scientists explain this by circadian rhythms – which are behavioural changes tied to an internal clock (that humans also have), which follow a roughly 24 hour cycle. 

During the night, the sunflower’s head slowly turns back east to begin the cycle again. But how does it do this? The research shows that the turning is a result of different sides of the stem elongating at different times of day.

fi ayerst

Hi, I’m Fiona. I love cats, sharks, reading, writing and being underwater.

To see a video of how this works in graphic form – check this short video


Why is this important for the sunflower? It was found that if they could not move towards the sun whilst growing, those flowers were weaker and smaller thus ultimately affecting the whole plant. Mature sunflowers respond differently to the sun. As growth slows down, the circadian clock ensures that the plant reacts more strongly to light early in the morning than in the afternoon or evening, so it gradually stops moving during the day. Continuously east-facing large and strong, mature blooms heat up faster and this helps them to attract five times as many helpful pollinators. Apparently, bees like warm flowers too.

The circadian clock’s adaptive function regulates the timing and strength of growth responses to environmental signals. The mature heads stand steadfast and smile up to the sun to ripen.  In this way they ensure the next generation of sunflowers survives. Incredible!

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There are cartfuls of other incredible animals living in the sunflowers but as I was only on the farm for two short days I decided to concentrate on the blooms. I saw many bees and caterpillars but I didn’t have the time to shoot them on macro , and so decided to leave that for another year.  I saw a puff adder but she wasn’t keen to be photographed,  so I left her to snooze in the sun. The cosmos had no chance against my trusty Nikon D800. It was the beginning of the season, but lining the verges of many a dusty South African country road, Cosmos the hues of coconut-ice,  turns a road trip into a riot of colour in late March annually. 

All photos were shot by me and taken at or near the gorgeous Vastrap farm owned and farmed by award winning cattleman Quentin de Bruyn and his wife Marisa, in Ladybrand in the Free State, South Africa. 

Fiona March 2020




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Blogger: Fiona Ayerst

Fiona is an award winning professional underwater and environmental photojournalist. Her work is published and portrayed throughout the world in numerous magazines, blogs and sites. Between May and October annual, Fiona manages Africa Media’s environmental and travel journalism internship program. 


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