Flowers are often a symbol of cheer and hope and so we were interested to hear recently about an initiative called the Big Sunflower Project which is calling on people to plant sunflowers for Ukraine in addition to its usual remit of raising awareness of a rare medical condition.
The project isn’t new, having been established in 2011 to highlight the impact of inherited neuromuscular conditions known as centronuclear and myotubular myopathy (CNM and MTM). These conditions result in low muscle tone and can affect both children and adults. The sunflower initiative was set up by Toni Abram after she and her father Mike were both diagnosed with CNM.
Supporters of the Big Sunflower Project grow a sunflower and then share their sunflower photos on social media. Sunflowers were chosen for their height and beauty, being one of Toni’s favourite flowers. She felt that fundraising through physical activity excluded some people, including herself and so was keen to find something that more people could access, such as planting seeds.
She comments: “I have always loved the way that sunflowers grow to such dizzy heights, as if they are on a mission to touch the sky and nothing can hold them back………popping a seed in a pot and nurturing it for a few weeks was something most people could do, whatever their physical ability and that was very appealing to me, because it meant that those diagnosed with centronuclear and myotubular myopathy could take part too.”
Different sectors of various communities, from schools to charities to individuals have all taken part, planting sunflowers in gardens, public spaces, allotments and playgrounds. Word has also spread far and wide, with participants from across the globe, including the USA, the Middle East, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and France to name but a few.
The sunflower is also the national flower of Ukraine. With the recent invasion of the country and in recognition of the suffering of the Ukrainian people, Toni feels that the project is now more relevant than ever.
“As always, project sunflowers will be grown to raise awareness of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy,” explains Toni, “but also for the people of Ukraine.”
Ukraine is the world’s largest producer and exporter of sunflower seeds and sunflower oil. They are a common sight in gardens and yards across the country and are often woven into wreaths called venki for girls to wear at celebrations.
The Big Sunflower Project website includes stories from sunflower growers across the world, as well as a comprehensive history of the plant and useful advice on how to grow sunflowers successfully.
Sunflowers also formed part of the winners’ bouquets at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The flowers had been grown mainly in districts of north east Japan that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which also resulted in the meltdown of reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Sunflowers have the ability to absorb high levels of toxic materials and were planted by parents whose children died in the Fukushima meltdown. They were also planted after the Hiroshima and Chernobyl disasters.
You can find out more about the Big Sunflower Project here.