Looking for Sunflowers in Provence
As soon as we finished our drive around the lavender fields we started hunting for sunflowers, called tournesol in French.
You may not be aware that despite the fact that you find postcards, photos and paintings of sunflowers all over Provence, they are actually native to the Americas. Sunflower seeds were brought to Europe by Spaniards in the 16th century where sunflower oil became a widespread cooking ingredient.
Sunflowers have rough, hairy stems, and what most people call the flower on a mature sunflower is a flower head of numerous small flowers crowded together. The outer flowers are sterile and the flowers inside the circular head mature into seeds from which oil is extracted. There are many beautiful sunflower fields in Vaucluse near our house in Sablet.
Continue reading here for the original blog post by Our House in Provence.
Turning to the Sun
The French word tournesol translates into ‘turn to the sun.’ In reality, young plants do track circadian rhythms. However, well before full maturity, the plants no longer turn with the daily cycles of the sun. The stems stand rigid as the sunny flowers face east.
Sunflowers are common in parts of Europe, with 60% of the global production. However, it is one of the few plants that originated in the Americas. The domestication of the sunflower traces to present-day Mexico and as long ago as 2600 BC. Although, some seeds may have come from Asia originally. The seeds were only brought to the rest of Europe via Spain in the early 16th century.
The sunflower is a large composite flower supported by a sturdy coarse stem and with sharp leaves. Petal florets surround the outer part of the head that are commonly yellow but can also be orange, red and other mixed colours.
The flower’s interior contains florets cleverly packed in an effective spiral pattern maximizing the number of seeds. These florets produce the seeds used for oil and other nutritional uses. Read more about French sunflowers in Provence.
Although the seeds produce 80% of the crop value when pressed to create sunflower oil, the entire plant is valuable. Fibre from the stem is turned into paper. After the seed extraction, the remaining leaves and the “cake” become animal feed.
Cultivation of plants for sunflower oil in Russia became popular in the 18th century, as it was the one oil allowed during lent. More recently, sunflowers were planted near the disaster site at Chernobyl, using phytoremediation to extract harmful toxins from the earth.