Sunflower Heliotropism: August Sunlight for Making Tons of Seeds
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.(Isaiah 40:8)
August is an important month for sunflowers—those gigantic bright-yellow flowers with brownish round seed-heads, bordered by radiating yellow ligules (petal-like rays), resembling a shining summer sun.(1),(2),(3) A recent report in the Chesapeake Bay Journal details some of humble sunflower’s splendor(1)—and those details should remind us that God’s bioengineering genius is boundless.
Inside the sunflower’s generously seed-packed flower-head are miniature florets that spiral concentrically, as the sunflower blooms, in a mathematical construction that progressively follows the Fibonacci sequence pattern—producing a happy-looking yellow flower that silently shouts God’s handiwork and artistry.(2),(4)
A sunflower can produce 1,000—2,000 seeds. The seeds in the middle [of the flower-head] are arranged in a Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5,, 8, 13, 21 …) where each number is the sum of the two [numbers] that precede it. … The sunflower is a composite flower that consists of two [sets of] florets. The yellow petal-like ring is made up of sterile ray florets. The brown center, depending on the species, can consist of thousands of brown seed-producing disc florets. Each produces one seed that is pollinated by insects [such as butterflies] or the wind. Should these fail, the flower will self-pollinate by twisting its stigma to reach its own pollen.(1)[Gaskell citation below]
Besides reproductive success (as an annual flower), sunflowers needs adequate rain, acceptably fertile soil, and lots of sunlight—and August is typically one of the sunniest months in the year.(2),(3),(5)
All of that Vitamin D from the sun does a plant good. The tallest sunflower on record was 30 feet, 1 inch [tall]. Even non-champions can grow 8—12 feet [tall] in as few as six months.(1)[Gaskell citation below]
In fact, the sunflowers move during the daytime, in order to track the sun—that’s because God designed and bioengineered their physiologies for such continuous environmental tracking (called heliotropism), so that they can photosynthetically maximize the sunlight’s benefits.(6)
Young sunflower blossoms face east in the morning, then follow the sun as the Earth rotates throughout the day. This behavior, called heliotropism, even takes place on cloudy days and will continue until the stem stiffens to bear the heavy load of growing seeds. Mature flowers often face east, and these plants can attract five times as many pollinators as westward-facing ones because they warm up more quickly.(1)[Gaskell citation below]
Photosynthesis is a highly complex process in plants that produces carbohydrates from water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight using a light-to-electron energy conversion process that operates at near-perfect levels of quantum efficiency. The light energy harvesting process to fuel this amazing system starts with the absorption of sunlight. In the machinery of the plant cell, the light-based energy is rapidly transferred from a specialized antenna network to a reaction center, where a charge transfer process converts photon-based light energy into electrochemical energy.(6)[Tomkins citation below]
Of course, pollinating insects—such as butterflies—appreciate sunlight-warmed flower blossoms, because these insects are ectothermic (“cold-blooded”), i.e., they depend upon their immediate environment for necessary heat, not being about to internally generate sufficient heat for bodily “climate control” needs.(7)
Thus, ectothermic pollinators are more “energized” when warmed, and can function more actively and alertly, so sunflowers provide the warm hospitality that benefits such pollinators.
So, thank You, God, for sunflowers — as they convey blessings from You unto us, both directly (when we eat sunflower seeds, and when we breathe oxygen which is a by-product of sunflower photosynthesis) and indirectly (when they provide blessings to others, such as birds, which eventually bless us in different ways) — and as they bless us by displaying Your handiwork, so we can moreso appreciate and extol You more, for being the magnificent Creator You are.
- Gaskell, K. A. 2020. Sunflowers Smarts. Chesapeake Bay Journal. 30(5):45 (July-August 2020).
- The most common example of sunflower is Helianthus annuus, known as the “common sunflower”—which is often seen along borders of cornfields and other croplands (planted to attract birds, so they will leave growing crops alone!), in highway median grasses, on the edges of vegetable garden, and any other vegetated area where they can annually arrive, germinate, grow tall, and bloom. See Johnson, J. J. S. 2020. Pollinators Working Hard as July Wraps Up. Creation Science Update (July 30, 2020), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/pollinators-working-hard-as-july-wraps-up .
- Sunflowers are still being pollinated by birds and butterflies at the end of July; August is a month during which sunflowers are continually blooming (blossoming), providing hosts of seeds—some of which are eaten (e.g., by blue jays), and some of which become the next generation of sunflowers. The phenological factors in life cycles of both pollinators and pollinated plants provide proofs that God providentially orchestrates pollination’s overall process and its many component details. See Johnson, J. J. S. 2020. Hungry Bumblebees Hurry Pollen Production. Creation Science Update (May 30, 2020), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hungry-bumblebees-hurry-pollen-production . See also Genesis 1:11-12. Matthew 6:28-30 Luke 12:27-28.
- Fibonacci, an Italian mathematician of the 1200s (A.D.), is better known to history as Leonard of Pisa. See “Fibonacci Numbers” (ICR podcast posted at https://www.icr.org/content/taf36 ), noting that Fibonacci sequences are those numerical sequences follow this pattern: 0, 1, 1 (the sum of 0 + 1), 2 (the sum of 1 + 1), 3 (the sum of 1 + 2), 5 (the sum of 2 + 3), 8 (the sum of 3 + 5), 13 (the sum of 5 + 8), 21 (the sum of 8 + 13), 34 (the sum of 13 + 21), 55 (the sum of 21 + 34), 89 (the sum of 34 + 55), 144 (the sum of 55 + 89), 233 (the sum of 89 + 144), 377, etc. See Wilson, F. 2002. Shapes, Numbers, Patterns, and the Divine Proportion in God’s Creation. Acts & Facts. 31(12), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/shapes-numbers-patterns-divine-proportion-gods-cre .
- By rotating crops, such as staggering soybeans and sunflowers (as is done in Brazil’s savanna, where sunflower seeding follows the soybean harvest), agricultural operations better fit nitrogen cycle dynamics than do monoculture agriculture practices. In particular, sunflowers generally absorb nitrogen better with fertilizers featuring ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) than with fertilizers featuring urea (CO(NH2)2, an amide composed of two amino radicals (.NH2) attached to a carbonyl functional group, except urea-based fertilizers perform better in cooler climates. See Matsuura, M. I. S. F., F. R. T. Dias, J. F. Picoli, et al. 2017. Life-Cycle Assessment of the Soybean-Sunflower Production System in the Brazilian Cerrado. . The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. 22(4):492-501, posted at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11367-016-1089-6 .
- God’s bioengineering, exhibited in sunflower photosynthesis operations, is both careful and caring, providentially producing success for sunflowers, and simultaneously providing food for sunflower seed-eating humans and animals. “One of the primary engineering design challenges for such a system is that light occurs in a broad spectrum of wavelengths and must interact with rapidly fluctuating molecular structures in the plant cell along with highly intricate energy transfer pathways. This produces a delicate interplay of physics-based quantum effects with many complex design hurdles. In other words, sunlight would be considered an exceptionally noisy energy input that must be accurately and precisely filtered or system failure would be inevitable.” [Quoting Tomkins, J. P. 2020. Design Principles Confer Optimal Light Harvesting in Plants. Creation Science Update (July 13, 2020), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/12301/ .]
- “Ectothermic (cold-blooded) means that an animal needs an external source of heat, like sunlight, to warm its body, like snakes and lizards do.” [Quoting Clarey, T. 2015. Dinosaurs Designed Cold-blooded. Acts & Facts. 45(1), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/dinosaurs-designed-cold-blooded .]