The sunflower is one of the world’s most popular flowers, both easy to grow and visually eye-catching.
The sunflower plant is also an important agricultural plant, with its seeds sold as healthy snacks and sunflower oil used in kitchens across the globe.
More recently the flower has been brought back into the public eye, with the war in Ukraine. The sunflower is the country’s national flower, with Ukraine also being the top producer of sunflower seeds in the world.
This extra exposure has led to lots more interest in the flower and one of the questions people have been asking is ‘what do sunflowers smell like?’. So I’ve combined my own personal experience with a bit of research to give you the answer.
What Do Sunflowers Smell Like?
Sunflowers have a very subtle smell that is best described as vegetal or resinous. Don’t expect to be knocked out by an overpowering floral aroma, most people grow sunflowers for their bright and cheerful look and the novelty factor of having a plant that frequently grows in excess of 3m (10ft) in their yard. People don’t grow sunflowers for their smell.
1. They Have A Very Subtle Smell
Did you know the tallest sunflower ever grown measured a whopping 9.17m (30ft)? That isn’t far off half the length of a tennis court or about ten baseball bats placed end to end.
That is one of the reasons it is hard to decipher the smell of the sunflower, it grows to such heights it is difficult to get a whiff of its fragrance.
The other reason is its scent really isn’t very pronounced.
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The first time I grew a sunflower was when I was about 7 or 8 years old, we had a competition at school to see who could grow the tallest sunflower in our class.
I remember waiting for what seemed like an age for it to grow and open up, and excitedly running outside to sniff its bright flowers…
And there was practically nothing… It was a bit of a letdown to be honest.
The truth is, for a flower that has spawned a range of ‘sunflower-scented products’, from perfumes to candles to shampoo, the sunflower doesn’t really smell of a whole lot.
2. They Don’t Have A Floral Smell
Now there are around 70 different species of sunflower so, just to clarify, here I am talking about the common sunflower, Helianthus annuus, which is the kind you will see in yards and parks around the globe.
However I have grown probably around ten different varieties of sunflower, and what I am about to say goes for all of them.
So do sunflowers smell? Well they don’t have a floral smell.
At least certainly not in the same way something like a lily, hyacinth or magnolia does.
3. They Smell Vegetal and Resinous
So, so far we have ascertained that sunflowers don’t have a strong scent and don’t smell floral, and whilst I have admitted they don’t smell of a whole lot that doesn’t mean they aren’t completely devoid of a scent.
The problem is when something smells so mild it can be difficult to adequately describe it.
So I went out into my garden to smell the sunflowers I am growing, and came back to my computer and set about putting it into words.
It was still difficult.
So I did what all men do when they need help with something, I turned to Google.
Two words that kept cropping up when others describe how a sunflower smells were ‘vegetal’ and ‘resinous’.
This describes the smell of a sunflower perfectly.
Sunflower oil is extracted from the seeds of a sunflower, not from the blossoms or petals, which goes some way to explaining the resinous smell.
The vegetal smell is reminiscent of many other things that grow in the ground. Imaginer plucking the pungent petals from a rose or rhododendron, so you are just left with the stem. That ‘garden’ smell is similar to that of a sunflower.
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4. They Smell Earthy
Another word that cropped up more than once when describing the smell of a sunflower was ‘earthy’.
Again I can see the logic in this, there is an earthy and woody smell that probably isn’t too far removed from describing sunflowers as smelling vegetal or resinous.
Someone even compared the smell to that of stepping out in a garden full of fresh trees and leaves, that kind of earthy aroma when you are surrounded by nature.
That is probably a fair comparison.
5. Insects Are Not Attracted to Sunflowers by Their Smell
Sunflowers are a haven for all kinds of bugs, and it isn’t for their smell.
In fact, most insects find the same things attractive about sunflowers that we humans do, their seeds and their bright yellow petals.
Once they are there the bugs are present with hundreds of small tubular flowers, all packed with pollen and nectar.
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In the case of bees, it is a mutual appreciation society. The bees help the flower pollinate and produce more quality seed, whilst the sunflower offers the bee nectar for honey production.
6. They Don’t Smell Like Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden
As you might have guessed, the plant doesn’t smell like the hugely popular women’s fragrance launched by Elizabeth Arden in 1993.
Top notes in the fragrance include melon, orange blossom, bergamot and rosewood. Very different from the sunflower itself!
However, the perfume is described as a ‘bright fragrance’, taking its name from the bright petals of the eponymous flower.
So do sunflowers have a scent? Well as you can see, the scent of a sunflower doesn’t match its attention-grabbing look. Even though as many as 2,000 tiny flowers can make up the head of a sunflower they produce a very mild smell.
The petals on the outside of the head of the sunflower, known as ray florets, are equally underwhelming in their aroma.
Sunflowers are native to North America, first grown in the continent over 5,000 years ago. They remain amazing plants and popular worldwide to this day.
But it isn’t for their smell.
Most people grow them for their bright and cheerful appearance, as well as their height, they typically grow to around 3m (10ft).
Sunflowers are also widely cultivated for their seeds, which are healthy snacks and sunflower oil and sunflower spread, which are both derived from the seeds.
So perhaps we can cut the versatile sunflower some slack and forgive it for being lacking in the fragrance stakes!