Victorians may recently have noticed a rather… yellow tinge to their surroundings. Observant students would have noted the sudden appearance, over the weekend after Valentines’ and Total Defence Day, of sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) in VJC.
The patch of soil in front of the bookshop, formerly occupied by a tree (which died and got cut down), is now full of sunflowers, lending a splash of yellow to the canteen. In addition, many pots of sunflowers are located along the carpark outside the spiral staircase and piano.
The Victorian Press, together with VJC Horticulture Society, decided to take a closer look at the flowers and trace their origins, and are happy to bring to you this collaborative feature!
The sunflowers were immediately noticed by many students. “They’re really nice, I’ve taken many photos of them!” exclaimed Meg-Mel of 17A11. Meanwhile, Natalie of 16S52 said “They smell so nice… they smell like flowers.” Her classmate, Dhruval, concurred, as Natalie told us that he actually went to sniff them! Most of the J1s, however, weren’t aware of the flowers’ sudden appearance, while the J2s were unaware of their origin.
As it turns out, the sunflowers were actually brought to you by one of our canteen uncles! These flowers were planted by the uncle who runs the Cold Drinks stall, stall 10. We interviewed the uncle and he revealed that he actually planted the flowers out of passion. He declined to be photographed or named, and asked us to refer to him as the Cold Drink Uncle. It seems he is actually an avid gardener, and he also planted a lot of the other flowers we see in VJC. If you go behind the canteen stalls, to the carpark, you’ll see a lot of potted plants hidden behind the cars — those belong to the Cold Drink Uncle as well. There is even an entire next generation of sunflowers that have not bloomed yet, ready to take over. Yes, these sunflowers were grown from seeds by the Cold Drink Uncle, and then transplanted into their current locations!
The Cold Drink Uncle also shared that the sunflowers have to be watered 4 to 5 times daily in addition to applying fertiliser, but aside from that, they are easy to grow in Singapore due to the sunny weather. He even comes back on weekends just to tend to the flowers! He’s still holding on to many seeds, and he’s extended an offer to any student who wants to pick up gardening – just look for him and ask! (When we first approached him for the interview, he thought we wanted seeds.)
To satisfy Victorians’ curiosity about these flowers, Horticulture Society, together with VPress, has compiled some trivia for students keen to find out more about sunflowers.
- Did you know that the sunflowers’ fuzzy brown centre (the receptacle) is actually made of many individual flowers?
- If you’re planning to cut sunflowers for display, you should harvest the sunflowers in the morning and not in the afternoon or they may wilt. Cut the stalk at an angle and place the flowers in tall containers to support their heavy heads. (Don’t actually go harvesting flowers from the ones in VJC though!)
- To harvest the seeds, cut the flower heads off when they begin to droop, or when the back of the head begins to turn yellow. Hang them upside down by the stem and get a bag to catch seeds as they fall out. For delicious roasted seeds, soak overnight in water and salt. Then drain and roast in an oven (between 90 to 120ºC) until slightly browned.
- Contrary to popular belief, the flowers do not turn to face the sun. This misconception probably came about because when we see a field of sunflowers, they are all facing the same way. However, sunflowers do not actually exhibit heliotropism, or face the sun, after they mature — only their buds do. Mature sunflowers generally face the east. If you look at the ones in front of the bookshop, they are all facing Neptune Court — east indeed.
For now, however, we would advise Victorians not to get too close to the flowers. Aside from the risk of damaging the flowers, this is because there may be insects or arachnids on the flower heads. The sunflowers outside the bookshop have been attracting insects such as fruit flies (Batrocera albistrigata), which hang around the receptacle. No bees have been spotted yet, but we never know, so do be safe.
White-striped fruit fly
Meanwhile, those outside the spiral staircase have a web of arachnids on them. These creatures are red and small (almost invisible to the naked eye), and resemble spider hatchlings but are likely a colony of red spider mites (Tetranychus urticae). They are a common pest on potted plants. As these can bite, try not to touch the flowers or disturb the mites.
Red spider mite
Clearly, the addition of these sunflowers has increased the biodiversity of VJC, and for nature lovers, this will definitely be a treat. Since sunflowers are not native to Singapore, they are not common and we can only see them if they are planted, as the Cold Drink Uncle has done.
The sunflowers are really beautiful and a nice addition to the VJC landscape. A big thank you to the Cold Drink Uncle for brightening up VJC!
Ryan Ch’ng, 16S47 (The Victorian Press)
Tan Jhing Yein, 16S34 (VJC Horticulture Society)
If you like what you have read and are interested in learning more about plants, do join Horticulture Society (Mondays 4.30–6.30 pm). School activities that we are involved in include Flower Sales 🌼 (during Friendship Day and Concert Season), Herbs and Spices Exhibition, and Horticulture Farm Tours!
We even have our own garden that we tend to, so do join our CCA session this coming Monday at T27 at 4.30pm to know more about our CCA! 😊 No experience needed because we will grow together and nurture your green fingers!