Oh sunflower! The queen of all flowers,
No other with you can compare,
The roadside and fields are made golden
Because of your bright presence there.
"An Ode to the Kansas Sunflower," Ed Blair, 1901
A September drive across Kansas is colored golden by the state's flower. Those large yellow faces are nearly as brilliant as the sun. The young plants even track the motion of the sun, turning their faces as the day progresses.
Long before statehood, the sunflower began to develop a connection with Kansas. Traders on the Santa Fe Trail commented on the flower's presence. Stephen Long's expedition through Kansas in 1820 documented birds feeding on the flower's seeds. Early settlers burned the stalks for fuel and fed the seeds to their poultry.
Soon after statehood, Kansans began to suggest the state officially adopt the flower. "The capitol square is surrounded by a dense growth . . . of rampant sunflowers," wrote Noble Prentis, editor of the Atchison Champion, in 1880. "They grow as big, rank and yellow as if they were forty miles from a house. The sunflower ought to be made the emblem of our state."
Kansas delegates to the Grand Army of the Republic convention in St. Louis in 1887 displayed the sunflower as their emblem. The Newton Daily Republican suggested in response to the favorable reception that Kansas should be called the "Sunflower State."
However, the sunflower was not highly regarded by all. An 1895 state law called the sunflower a "noxious weed" that should be destroyed. Other Kansans appreciated the flower's hardiness and endurance.
Kansans who attended rodeos in Colorado Springs in 1901 displayed the sunflower as a badge. "It presented a pleasing scene, unique and attractive to every citizen of the Sunflower state," George P. Morehouse, state senator from Council Grove, recalled. "Our hearts swelled with pride and our thoughts and words fondly dwelt upon the resources, traditions and triumphs of the state we all love so well. That occasion suggested the sunflower as our state flower."
Morehouse drafted the bill for the 1903 session designating the wild native sunflower or Helianthus as the state flower. Governor Willis Bailey signed the legislation on March 12, 1903. Nebraska had considered adopting the flower as its own before the Kansas law passed. No other state claimed the flower as its symbol.
Later that year Governor Bailey defined the uniform of the state militia to reflect the new symbol. "The collar device of the full-dress, dress and service coats of the officers and enlisted men of the Kansas National Guard shall be the sunflower."
In 1919 Topeka artist Albert T. Reid was asked to submit a design for a state flag. A modification of his proposal, a blue flag with a gold sunflower in the center, was approved as a state banner in 1925. Opponents disliked the use of the flower. ". . . that weed is in many respects worse than the cocklebur," said Frank Martin, state representative from Hutchinson. Eventually the 1927 legislature officially adopted the state flag, which features a blue field with the seal of Kansas, and above was centered a sunflower and a bar that symbolized the Louisiana Purchase.
When Alfred Landon launched his presidential campaign in 1936, the symbol was prominent on his buttons and campaign materials. The sunflower has become an important Kansas crop, used for sunflower oil and biodiesel fuel. The nickname, "Sunflower State," has become common and the sunflower remains a unique, cherished Kansas symbol.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: May 2011
Date Modified: September 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.