Ring of Fire


We’ve explored Rings of Fire in the sky, and we’ve investigated Rings of Fire in the ground. This imagery seems to be one humans are quite taken with, as today we have another Ring of Fire.

This halo of conflagration mixes a bit of the previous examples. It’s associated with the sun, and it blooms from the soil.

Consider Helianthus annuus:

A Sunfola variety of Sunflower - photo by Fir0002

This biological entity features perhaps one of the most apt binomial names. From Greek helios – “sun” – and ánthos – “flower” – we call this beauty the sunflower! Scientists decided to mix their metaphors with Helianthus annuus, going Greek in the first half and Latin in the second. Annuus translates to “annual.”

These flashy flowers typically reach about 10 feet in height. The tallest sunflower on record reached an astounding 30 feet and 1 inch!

They are one of the rare flowers that also serves as a food crop. Their large, adipose seeds are delicious but can also be used for cooking oil. Sunflower butter is a popular replacement for peanut butter amongst children because allergies to sunflowers are rare. The seeds are a big hit amongst avians, too.

Few natural sights are as striking as a field full of sunflowers.

Sun in the sky; sunflowers in the ground - photo by shirleybolling2005

For one, the sunflower is well named because their faces make a nice stand-in for our skyward star (see the photo above or today’s logo at the top of the article). One sun is brilliant enough; hundreds of suns staring at you all at once is quite enchanting.

The sunflower’s name is pertinent for another reason, too. In the image above, the flowers are all literally staring at you. Each sunflower is facing the same direction! And this fact isn’t coincidental with that particular field or that particular photograph. In folk wisdom, sunflowers display heliotropism, a phenomenon that combines, once again, the Greek root helio and the process of tropism. In biology, tropism is the manner in which bodies grow or turn in response to environmental stimuli. Add “sun” to the process and you have organisms that move with the sun. Many people believe sunflowers actually follow the sun across the sky, displaying heliotropism. This belief is partially correct. Immature sunflowers – individuals that have not developed the bulky, yellow flower heads – actually do orient themselves toward the sun as it moves across the sky. However, once a sunflower reaches maturity, this process ceases. How does the field above show a gaggle of sunflowers staring in one direction, then? Interestingly, when sunflowers ditch heliotropism, they all face east! This evolutionary adaptation gives them full sun energy in the mornings, which helps to attract pollinators.

When we look at sunflowers, we typically envision one giant flower. In fact, the giant face of the sunflower is known to botanists as a “flower head.” What’s the difference? Anatomically, each large “petal” is actually a flower itself. Called ray flowers, each of these “petals” is a group of fused petals. Further, the inner portion of the flower head is composed of another type of flower, called disk flowers. They are arranged in spirals that happen to be oriented toward each other approximately by the golden ratio (137.5 degrees). These disk flowers become the flower’s fruit, aka sunflower seeds.

Spiral florets of a sunflower - photo by L. Shyamal

But it’s the ray flowers that provide the color and, therefore, are responsible for another version of the Ring of Fire. Many sunflowers are yellow, but the outer ray flowers can produce an array of other hues, including oranges and reds.

A Prado red sunflower - photo by Moyra Turkington

One cultivar of sunflowers appears to have taken its connection to the sun to another level. The annual has an annulus.

And it just happens to mimic an annular eclipse.

The Ring of Fire sunflower - photo from Gardenia.net
An annular eclipse, aka Ring of Fire - photo by BrijeshPookkottur

Gorgeous flower.

Sunflowers flourish in a variety of locations, so you could plant a slew of these fire rings to add some celestial color to your garden.

A vase full of eclipse sunflowers
Ring of Fire - photo from AAS
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