Sunflowers, a Study in Solar Efficiency

How do you gather the most sun in the least amount of space?

Who does it better than anything else?  What else than a flower named for it, a sunflower.

Math Engineer, Alexander Mitsos, from MIT used numerical optimization to find  the most efficient space design for concentrating solar power plants, like Gemsolar in Spain.  In a surprise to the researchers, the mathematically most efficient layout mimics that of a sunflower’s florets.

But us gardeners know, to find the perfect solution to a natural problem you look no further than nature to guide you.

there's 137 degrees between florets in there somewhere.

In an article from MSNBC, I learned the sunflower’s florets are at such angles to each other to reduce shading from other florets and thus maximizing the amount of sun to each.  These angles form the gorgeous spirals you seen in a sunflowers center.   The angle 137.5° is related to the golden ratio (55/144 of a circular angle, where 55 and 144 are Fibonacci numbers) and gives a close packing of florets.

 

 

 

Some other interesting facts about sunflowers.

  • Their heads follow the direction of the sun from east to west (heliotroping) as young plants but their movement stops as they mature.
  • Florets are actually small flowers, and each head of a sunflower can contain 1,000 – 2,000 flowers on each.
  • The Aztecs, Incas and Otomi people used the sunflower as their symbol for their solar gods.
  • The 1st of May is International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day. A day when gardeners plants seeds of this beauty in abandoned lots, neglected public places, along bare roadways.  Now what a great idea!

 

 

 

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