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Why is the sunflower the national flower of Ukraine?

Sunflowers growing in Central Ukraine

… world’s largest exporter because of Orthodox Church

Late last year, I started working with a young woman who was an immigrant from the Ukraine. Without violating privacy, she was fluent in both Russian and Ukrainian and had immigrated to the U.S. about eight years ago to attend college.

Then followed graduate school, but she wanted to improve her English writing skills for her professional life. I worked with her for a few months, and she was a delightful young lady.

When the attack by Putin occurred, I have thought of her often, and I finally emailed her. I just wanted her to know that I was thinking of her, and I was also trying to learn as much as I could about her home country.

Here is the Sunflower story.

The irony of the sunflower is that the sunflower has flourished in the country because of some religious ties,

Sunflowers (sunyashniki) are especially loved in Ukraine, where golden fields of them face the sunrise in the east. They are Ukraine’s national flower, and in folk imagery represent the warmth and power of the sun, which was worshipped by pre-Christian Slavs.

In a strange twist, the fact that Ukraine is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of sunflower seeds and sunflower oil is partly due not to pagan practices, but to those of the Orthodox Church.

Sunflowers made their way to Ukraine through the efforts of the early explorers of North America, where it was one of only a few native food crops (along with squash, blueberries and pecans).

Seeds were brought back to the old world, and found to grow well in hot, dry places with rich soil, such as the “Black Earth” regions of Ukraine.

MIR Corporation, “Why is the Sunflower the National Flower of Ukraine?” MIR, 2022

Has ties to Lent

One of the fascinating ties to this has to do with Lent,

The Orthodox Church comes into the story because during Lent, believers were not supposed to use butter or lard for cooking. Since sunflower oil was a fairly recent arrival, there were no specific restrictions on its use. Sunflower culture took off. By the 1800s, there were big fields of them all over Ukraine and western parts of Russia, and people were chewing the seeds and spitting out the shells.

Sunflower Snacks

Later, Soviet plant breeders developed a line of sunflowers that produces much more oil, and oil of a type that doesn’t go bad when it’s heated to a high temperature. In the 1990s, when the world began to turn away from trans-fats, the new sunflower oil quickly became popular– especially for frying potato chips – and even more fields were planted.

Today this versatile crop covers huge swathes of central Ukraine, bringing joy, beauty, symbolism, and snacks to the people of Ukraine – and the world – by way of the ever-powerful energy of the sun.

MIR Corporation, “Why is the Sunflower the National Flower

of Ukraine?” MIR Travel Blog, 2022

The "Fuzzy Bear" Sunflower -- it has no seeds

A fascinating, but now horrific, story. Imagine what that country will look like this summer.

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