Despite being a lifelong gardener, there is always a seed of doubt in my mind that says, "that tiny seed you are planting in the soil will never grow." Maybe that notion is reinforced, because sometimes it’s true. But then there are sunflowers, which rarely disappoint as they break through the soil within days, and shoot up to the sky like Jack's beanstalk did.
That instant gratification is so rewarding and excites me to continually go outside and see what has happened next in the seed's journey. The wobbly sprout adds leaves and within days, that stem turns into a sturdy stalk. Seemingly overnight, a head appears at the top, its face covered by scrunched up green petals. The lone flower holds its head high and tilts toward the sun, just as I do when I step outside on the first warm day of spring.
The magical part comes when I return home later in the day to find the sunflower has rotated its head to now face the west, as if to watch the sunset. By morning, it has turned again to greet the rising sun. Intrigued as to how and why it does that day after day, I looked to science to find an answer.
According to researchers, young sunflower plants sun-tracking behavior (also called heliotropism) is due to their circadian rhythms-the behavioral changed tied to an internal clock that humans also have, which follow a roughly 24 hour cycle.
Each of us has a circadian rhythm- a natural cycle of physical, mental, and behavior changes that our bodies go through over a 24-hour period. These rhythms are affected by light and darkness, and are controlled by our brains. They can affect how we sleep, our body temperature, hormones, appetite and many other functions.
Could it be that modern day living has disrupted our natural circadian rhythm that once was in sync with nature? Does forcing ourselves to wake to the jolt of an alarm or exposing ourselves to light from screens long after the sun has set throw our body so out of whack that we are jeopardizing our health and well-being? Studies have indeed demonstrated this.
The sunflowers story doesn't end with its dance with the sun. Soon their green petals unfurl, and then they extend their bright yellow petals like rays of the sun. Pollinators of all types indulge on the smorgasbord of pollen and nectar in the center. Within days, yet another transformation occurs-the uncovering of tightly knit seeds as the flower petals begin to wilt and fade; seeds that we may munch on, birds will dine on or maybe they will be the next generation of sunflowers for us all to enjoy.
Reflecting on this dynamic show, which occurs over just a few weeks, causes me to pause and appreciate that what we need to bloom can be found in nature.
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