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Prolonging the life of your cut flowers begins the moment they’re entrusted to your care. First off, make sure your vase is very clean and filled with fresh, lukewarm water mixed with flower nutrients. Next, strip off all leaves that will be below the water level of the vase and cut 2cm off all stems at a slight angle. Place the flowers in the vase, away from direct sunlight, radiators, draughts and fruit. Over the following days, be sure to remove any faded flowers and top up the water regularly.
With their gorgeous golden heads that turn towards the sun, sunflowers have become emblems of devotion and admiration. Although popularised by the Dutch artist Van Gogh, these heliotropic hedonists of the floral kingdom originate from the Americas, where they were reportedly venerated by Inca tribes who considered them to be images of their sun god.
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The sunflower is that rare ornamental whose industrial importance may outweigh its aesthetics: Sunflower oil, high in Vitamin E and low in saturated fat, is becoming an increasingly popular cooking oil.
Sunflowers are native to the Western Hemisphere where they were first cultivated by Native Americans in what is now Arizona and New Mexico as early as 3000 BC. Native Americans pounded the seeds into flour or ate them as a snack. They were also the first to extract the oil from the seeds.
Spanish conquistadors brought the flowers to the Old World where they became immensely popular as ornamental plants. But the Tsar Peter 1 of Russia, more popularly known as Peter the Great, was intrigued by the sunflower’s potential as a source of food. By the beginning of the 19th century, more than two million acres of sunflowers were under cultivation by Russian farmers for use in the commercial manufacture of sunflower seed oil.
Today sunflower seed oil remains a popular cooking oil in both Europe (including Russia) and the United States.
The bright yellow sunflower also remain a popular addition to bouquets and other floral arrangements. The sunflower is often used as the symbol for the environmental or “green” movement. It was a popular subject for 19th century artists, particularly impressionists: Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous painting, a still life of sunflowers in a vase, was auctioned for almost 40 million dollars in 1987.
Like all flowers, sunflowers have a symbolic meaning that adds to the fun of receiving them in a bouquet. Growing in a field, the flowers seem to turn their heads towards the sun as the sun appears to move across the sky, a response known as phototropism. Thus, sunflowers have become associated with loyalty, constancy and dependability. Because the long yellow petals of the sunflower are so reminiscent of the sun’s own rays, the sunflower is also identified with warmth, cheerfulness and generosity. If you want to send a floral arrangement that will will bring a smile to its recipient’s face, include a sunflower.
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