Thursday, 15 March 2012

The wonder of the simple sunflower

We've been reminiscing a little in the festival team, remembering back to growing sunflowers as kids in our back gardens. The memory of these magnificent yellow flowers towering over the garden fence is etched into our minds. Recently we've been rediscovering the wonder of the simple sunflower as part of the Turing's Sunflower project and have been amazed at the facts that we've uncovered en route.

We were pretty amazed to discover that there is a guerilla gardening day on the 1st of May devoted internationally to growing sunflowers. An event that could prove timely to this project!

We've also discovered some pretty incredible facts about sunflowers... here's our top five so far in now particular order.

1. The seeds make a tasty and healthy snack. You can eat them (and feed birds with them too) and cook with the oil pressed from them. Indeed the sunflower is the symbol of the vegan society and licensed for the sale of sustainable products.

2. You can create other useful and sustainable products including biodiesel as an alternative to petrol.

3. Sunflowers are a great learning resource to teach maths, biology and science. Baby sunflowers apparently track the motion of the sun across the sky, a phenomenon known as heliotropism. Further, the seeds grow in a spiral pattern in the sunflower head and if you count the spirals you will, more often than not, find that the number of spirals corresponds to numbers found in a mathematical sequence called the fibonacci sequence.

4. Sunflowers can be used to extract toxic chemicals from soil, including lead, arsenic and uranium, a process called phytoremediation. Through this process plants can naturally help alleviate environmental problems. Sunflowers were apparently grown to help reduce toxins after the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster.

5. Sunflowers are part of a rich cultural and artistic heritage with many artworks and cultural practices associated with sunflowers. Van Gogh's Sunflowers is perhaps the most obvious example but more recently Chinese Artist, Ai Wei Wei's sunflower seed installation has been in the news recently with Tate Modern buying 8 million of the 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds produced as part of the artwork. Bring the conversation back to food, we also discovered recently as the Manchester Histories Festival that sunflower seeds are handed out as a snack to celebrate Chinese new year.

To share and discover more about these amazing plants, including how to grow them, join us on an incredible and hopefully memorable challenge as part of the festival to Grow a Turing Sunflower (or 2 or 3 or 5 or 8 or 13 or more!)...

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