Why were sunflower seeds planted in the shadows of nuclear disasters?

Sunflowers are not only a sight for sore eyes, but also are helpful in absorbing damaging metals.

via Wikimedia Commons

Sunflowers are not only a sight for sore eyes, but also are helpful in absorbing damaging metals.

As pretty as sunflowers are, they actually have a useful purpose when planted in places where nuclear disasters occurred. Sunflowers can absorb toxic metals and the radiation that is in the soil. For example, fields of sunflowers were planted over the radiation zones after the Hiroshima nuclear bombing. The US also uses this knowledge of the sunflowers to help clean up contamination, pollution, and other toxic sites. These sunflowers are more valuable than some people may think.

 

These yellow-petaled herbs are what environmental scientists call hyper-accumulators, which means a plant capable of growing in places with high concentrations of metals and absorbing the metals in their own tissues. Sunflowers have root systems just like all other land plants, but these flowers took it a step further and evolved to make it so that they can pull water and other minerals out of the ground; for example, zinc, copper, and other radioactive substances, which are then stored in the flowers’ stems and leaves.

One of the most successful uses for these flowers was after the destruction of Chernobyl in the 1990s, and much to the scientists’ surprise, the flowers were highly effective in cleaning the water sources. However, the sunflowers were significantly less effective in cleaning the soil. This is because the radioactive chemicals had a longer-lasting time in the soil to become fixed to the minerals in the dirt. Another successful operation with the flowers was the cleanup of Fukushima in 2011 following the nuclear disaster. Even beyond its success in cleaning radioactive areas, the newly planted patches of sunflowers offered a reprieve from nuclear fear and a bright new sight for people.

 

These types of plants, called hyper-accumulators, specifically the sunflower, have helped eliminate so many harmful metals and radiation for us humans. These flowers have an interesting way of working, absorbing most of the harmful metals in the ground and putting them into their tissues to keep us safe. Sunflowers also helped get rid of the aftermath of many nuclear sites and have made them livable places again. Sunflowers really are an unusual flower, though not many people know about their true ability. It’ll help the world with a lot of its needs.