Sunflowers not just a pretty face

Sunflowers are not only tall, beautiful and majestic, they also absorb high concentrations of radioactive waste from soil and water. Environmental scientists call sunflowers hyperaccumulators as they literally 'suck up' vast amounts of toxic materials such as zinc, copper, lead frequently found in contaminated land, from deep in the soil and store them in the stem, leaves and flower head - a process called phytoremediation.

Sunflowers in a field absorb toxic metals in the soil.

Flower Power

Following the 2006 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, and Hiroshima, Fukushima 2011 nuclear explosion in Japan, millions of sunflowers were planted in the surrounding contaminated landscapes to help absorb toxic metals and radiation from the soil. Radiative waste leaked into the landscape and surrounding area of the power plant left thousands of hectares contaminated. Over 8 million sunflowers were planted in Japan near the former nuclear plant site to help with the environmental recovery of the area. It is expected at least 50 years is required, to clean up the radioactive substances which has contaminate both soil and water resources in the vicinity.

Although not on the scale of a vast and dangerous nuclear disaster, all our homes now come with modern equipment which emit some levels of radiation. We are now dependent on many devices which emit constant radiation, from smart phones and microwaves, to streaming services and our now extensive dependence on Wi-Fi. The good news is, once again as with sunflowers, nature can help as there are many house plants you can add to your home to reduce exposure to harmful electromagnetic radiation.


Paris based American artist Rachel Marks talks about the importance of sunflowers as nature's toxin absorbers and why she created paper sunflowers from the leaves of discarded books as part of her Paper Tree installation ESOHPROMATEM in 2020.

ESOHPROMATEM: Paper Tree installation by Rachel Marks which was displayed at the Change Now Summit in the Grand Palais Paris, France January and February 2020.

Above, a documentary video on the making of Rachel's100ft paper tree and sunflower installation made from thousands of found, discarded and therefore saved-from-landfill books. The paper tree installation drew attention to the FUKUSHIMA nuclear disaster in Japan. The sunflowers in the installation symbolise the healing power of nature, and the vital environmental role these beautiful flowers contribute to repairing the lands in and surrounding the nuclear disaster area.

Documentary video by Tomasz Namerla