July Sunflower Splendor in Umbria

The cultivation of sunflowers throughout Italy adds a joyful floral frame to the views of the medieval hilltowns. Farmhouses are accented with butter-yellow carpets while rolling yellow fields of sunflowers blend with their green borders. 

A Greek myth recounts that the sun, Apollo, transformed the nymph Clizia into a flower after rejecting her. Having lost Apollo’s love, Ovid writes that Clizia then forever followed his movements.

But scientists tell us that the brilliant yellow flowers follow a Circadian rhythm, a “biological clock.” The young flowers follow the sun from east to west but the grown flowers only face east and thus absorb the most heat possible, attracting the insects, thus facilitating pollination.

In August, the majestic sunflowers will droop their heads as their seeds near full maturation. Combines will rumble through the fields harvesting the prized girasoli.  For me, sad is the site of the fields post-harvest where perhaps a few small sunflowers might sprout from dropped seeds, a lovely reminder that next summer, fields will be ablaze again. In the meantime, we will enjoy cooking not just with our olive oil but also with a bit of olio di girasole!