Thai Sunflowers Resist the Sun

Sunflower fields in Thailand

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Thai sunflowers don’t follow, they resist the sun…

When running around Thailand with K.Pi and K.Ph, a small event will often take over our conversation. As I’m interested in learning about all things Thai, it usually involves a mix of Thai culture, history, and language.

In our field before the perfect field adventure, this time K.Pi’s discovery of a rogue sunflower set us off.

The Thai word for sunflower is ดอกทานตะวัน /dòk taan dtà-wan/, which roughly translates as flower resisting the sun, or the flower that resists the sun. Something like that.

ดอก /dòk/ flower
ทาน /taan/ resist
ตะวัน /dtà-wan/ sun

Sunflower fields in Thailand I look at sunflowers as following the sun, not resisting/opposing. After grilling K.Ph from as many angles as I could (diagrams included), seems this is a cultural difference between westerners and Thais. And if sunflowers were following the sun, like westerners view them, then they’d be just the opposite (more further down).


When I brought up the discussion with Thai Skype teacher Khun Narisa, she explained it further. Apparently, Thais feel that since the sunflower never turns her face away from the sun, then sunflowers are not scared of the sun. Therefor, sunflowers resist the sun.

I found the difference in mindsets quite surprising.

As an aside, K.Ph also mentioned that ทาน /taan/ comes from ทนทาน /ton taan/. And like many Thai combo words, ทนทาน /ton taan/ was shortened because it sounds nicer tripping off the tongue.

ทนทาน /ton taan/
Resist, endure, bear, stand, be durable

A Rogue Sunflower in Thailand…

Whether you believe sunflowers are resisting or following, a maturing sunflower will turn to face the sun. This is due to a phototropic response called heliotropism (sun turning).

Sunflowers in Thailand

hăn nâa hâi prá aa-tít
Turn to face the sun.

dòk taan dtà-wan hăn nâa hâi prá aa-tít
The sunflower turns to face the sun.

หันหน้า /hăn nâa/
To turn one’s head, turn to face

ให้ /hâi/
Auxiliary. To give, offer.

พระอาทิตย์ /prá aa-tít/

Wandering around taking photos, K.Pi found a sunflower doing just the opposite. And standing in a sea of yellow heads pointing to the sun, the thrill was similar to finding a four-leaf clover in a clover covered field!

(granted, I’m easily amused)

A Rogue Sunflower in Thailand

hăn lăng hâi prá aa-tít
Turn one’s back to the sun.

dòk taan dtà-wan hăn lăng hâi prá aa-tít
The sunflower turns its back to the sun.

หันหลัง /hăn lăng/
Turn on one’s, turn one’s back towards

We walked around the rogue sunflower to check if it’d been pushed in some way (no) damaged (no) dying (no). And it was the same height and health as the other tall sunflowers.

When I got back home I found information suggesting that this sunflower could be slightly more mature (?) than the others. So if that’s true, then it was standing still, getting ready to dry.

Turning one’s back on Thai society…

I’m not going to get into Thainess, but to be Thai is all about belonging to the group. Conforming. Curious, I asked Khun Narisa for a more phrases Thais would use for the rogue sunflower in the photo. We sort of got there, but I do have more questions.

Sunflower fields in Thailand คนหัวแข็ง /kon hŭa kăeng/
A person with a strong head = a headstrong person.

หัวแข็ง /hŭa kăeng/
head + strong, hard, solid
Stubborn, obstinate, obdurate, headstrong

คนหัวอ่อน /kon hŭa òn/
A person with a soft head = a follower, not a leader.

หัวอ่อน /hŭa òn/
Head + soft
Obedient, docile, tractable, pliable, submissive

ดอกทานตะวัน (ดอกนี้) สวนกระแส
dòk taan dtà-wan (dòk née) sŭan grà-săe
This sunflower is going against the trend.

สวนกระแส /sŭan grà-săe/
To go against, be opposed to, be averse to
To go against the trend (slang).

สวน /sŭan/
Pass in the opposite direction, cross, come in the opposite direction

กระแส /grà-săe/
Trend, course, flow, way

sŭan grà-săe săng-kom
To go against society.

สังคม /săng-kom/

Btw – K.Pi, never one to miss a moment for hilarity, piped up with:

kăo sài grà bprohng yaao sŭan grà-săe săng-kom
She wears long skirts so she’s going against the trend.


For more than you wanted to know about sunflowers: Sunflowers: interesting facts, their history, their cultivation and commercial use.

And did you know that there’s an official International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day? Guerrilla gardening, gardening without permission, looks to be growing in popularity. Bangkok sort of had a Guerrilla gardener. Does anyone know if he’s still at it?

8 thoughts on “Thai Sunflowers Resist the Sun”

  1. Great post Cat…and leave it to you to find the one sunflower whose face is turned away from the sun. I bet you went looking for it too!

  2. Snap, flowerism – are you up for starting a new movement? I was born after the flower child generation but my sympathies are with them. There is so much blind hatred in this world, and it’s growing. Our future is scary to contemplate. Sometimes I think we should just drop a bomb in the middle of it all and start over…. kidding 😀

  3. Catherine, a wonderful post explaining how we all look at the same thing differently sometimes. I LOVE the idea of the Guerrilla Gardening Day! Wouldn’t it be fantastic if terrorism was replaced with flowerism 😉

  4. Thanks Lani. I like your idea of melancholic sunflowers because when they dry their heads droop down so sad. Sweetly sad though.

    Martyn, from what I can tell they harvest sunflowers after they’ve dried in the sun. I don’t know what I like better. The bright yellow bits of sunshine, or the rich brown.

    “the sun is expected to break through and that’s when me old flower my head will be turning towards the pub” – me too, me too 🙂

    Paul, I hear you there. I liken myself as that sunflower so I hope it’s not in the final stages of youth, preparing to dry up and blow away. Now that’d be sad. Heh.

  5. Great post Catherine, and some nice vocabulary to add to that piece of software we recently talked about. I somehow find the fact that one sunflower is pointing away from the sun a big comforting – there’s always one who insists on doing things their own way. 🙂

  6. Catherine the sunflower is amazing how it turns to face the sun. The rogue one even more so, maybe its got fair petals or a cricked stem.

    I clicked and followed your heliotropism link (good old Sticky Wiki, I saw her cousin Sticky Vicky in Benidorm years ago, quite a showgirl), and it says the flowers stop rotating when they mature. Looking at the height of the rogue flower and all the others around it then the carousel sunflower field will surely stop spinning soon. Maybe now’s the time they harvest (not sure if that’s the flowery term for pick or pluck) them.

    หัว แข็ง /hŭa kăeng/
    head + strong, hard, solid
    Stubborn, obstinate, obdurate, headstrong.

    Hua Hin (Stone Head) surely there’s a connection there with the above.

    Wiltshire Weather Report – It’s seven in the morning and just above freezing with a fairly strong wind making it feel much colder. Midday the sun is expected to break through and that’s when me old flower my head will be turning towards the pub.

  7. Ah the metaphoric language of Thailand! Love this post. My new favorite. I remember in art class we drew sunflowers so I feel as though I have done some “scientific” observation on the subject 😛

    In class we talked about how sunflowers are heavy with seeds and how some flowers look down at the earth and others look away. Do sunflowers resist the sun? I suppose it is another way to say they are melancholic. Or to be “trendy” vampiric. ^ ^


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