North Dakota is one of the nation’s top sunflower-producing states, using the cheery yellow flowers for everything from bird seed mixes to cooking oils.
But before North Dakota’s many hardworking farmers start to harvest this tasty crop, the state comes alive with the golden hue of thousands upon thousands of sunflowers, all blooming together at the same time.
Known as a “superbloom,” the jaw-dropping phenomenon occurs every year toward the end of summer. Spring planting was delayed this year in North Dakota and other northern states because of cold, wet weather—but that also means that sunflowers in some parts of the state are still blooming.
Right now, many of the state’s sunflower fields are in peak bloom, with nearly all flowers showing off their delicate yellow petals. As such, the state has earned a reputation as “the best place in the United States to experience the vast sunflower blooms,” says Sara Otte Coleman, North Dakota’s tourism director, in a statement.
In North Dakota, travelers can road trip around the state to see and snap photos of the best blooms, using a handy map created by the tourism office as their guide—complete with GPS coordinates and detailed directions for reaching exactly the right spots. Some of the fields are offering free sunflower seeds for visitors to take home, and one grower is hosting a week-long “Sunflower Shindig” in September to celebrate the superbloom.
Ukrainian immigrants first began planting sunflowers when they moved to North Dakota in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862. Sunflowers are still an important plant for Ukrainians, both symbolically and economically. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Ukraine was the largest exporter of sunflower oil in the world, though the war has largely halted production, per the New York Times’ Christine Hauser.
When they’re young, sunflowers turn their heads toward the sun as it moves in the sky, a behavior known as heliotropism. But as they mature and start to produce seeds, they mostly point east, which scientists have learned helps the plants attract bees and ultimately reproduce.
The fields are popular backdrops for social media posts, but they’re also a visible marker of the state’s agricultural prowess.
This Great Plains state, which shares a border with two Canadian provinces—Saskatchewan and Manitoba—raises a diverse array of products in addition to sunflowers, including wheat, corn, soybeans, cattle, pigs, vegetables, barley and hay. As a haven for bees, it’s also the leading producer of honey in the nation, creating around 38.6 million pounds of honey (worth around $61 million) in 2020, per North Dakota’s agriculture department.
Visiting the sunflower fields also offers a window into farming best practices. Each year, North Dakota growers rotate different crops through their fields to help reintroduce and balance nutrients, stave off pests and weeds, and promote overall soil health. No two years of the superbloom look the same in North Dakota, as farmers plant sunflowers in former wheat fields and vice versa.
“To give farmers an opportunity to show what they’re working so hard on is a really cool thing,” Alicia Jolliffe, a spokesperson for the state tourism office, tells the television station KFYR’s Jody Kerzman. “It’s the best show-and-tell ever.”