SUNFLOWER

FAMILY: Asteraceae | GENUS: HELIANTHUS

TYPE
  • Annuals
  • Perennials
SUN EXPOSURE
  • Full Sun
WATER
  • Ample Water
  • Regular Water

Plant Details

These sturdy plants are grown for their familiar, colorful blooms; most are prime subjects for cut flowers. Plants are tough and widely adapted. Perennial kinds spread rapidly and may become invasive. Tall kinds are not for tidy gardens; may need staking. All bloom in summer and fall.

swamp sunflower

helianthus angustifolius

  • Perennial.
  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • Native to eastern U.S. Grows 512 feet tall, 34 feet wide.
  • Bears narrow, 6 inches leaves and sheaves of bright yellow, 2- to 3 inches daisies with dark brown centers.
  • Likes ample moisture but adapts to ordinary garden conditions.
  • Sometimes confused with Helianthus salicifolius but blooms 2 weeks later.
  • Spreads rapidly by rhizomes.
  • Very showy.
  • Gold Lace has the bright yellow flowers of the basic species, but it tops out at 56 feet tall and spreads less vigorously.
  • Mellow Yellow has pale yellow blossoms.

common sunflower

helianthus annuus

  • Annual.
  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11.
  • The wild ancestor of today's familiar sunflowers is a coarse, hairy plant with 2- to 3 inches-wide flowers, native to much of the central U.S. and southward to Central America.
  • It is the state flower of Kansas and the only plant native to the contiguous 48 states to have become an important agricultural commodity.
  • It has been bred to produce giant plants as well as a host of smaller (but still significant) selections for garden decoration and cut flowers.
  • For children, annual sunflowers are easy to grow and bring a sense of great accomplishment.
  • Sow seeds in spring where plants are to grow.
  • Large-flowered kinds need rich, moist soil.
  • People eat the roasted seeds; birds enjoy the raw ones in fall and winter.

Best known among the giant forms are 'Mammoth Russian', 'Russian Giant', and 'Sunzilla'. They grow 10 feet (possibly 15 feet.) tall and 2 feet wide, typically producing a single huge head (sometimes over a foot across) consisting of a circle of short yellow rays with a brown central cushion of seeds. 'Kong' is similarly towering; 'Sunspot' carries 10 inches-wide flower heads on 2 feet-high plants. 'Maya' produces multiple 45 inches blooms of golden yellow and lots of seeds for goldfinches.

Sunflowers for cutting come on compact, branching plants and bear 4- to 8 inches-wide blooms in a rich variety of colors. They fall into two basic categories: pollen-bearing types and pollenless ones. Kinds with pollen include 'Del Sol', early-blooming, yellow, 5 feet tall; 'Indian Blanket', red with yellow tips, 45 feet tall; 'Italian White', creamy yellow to near white, 5 feet tall; 'Lemon Eclair', light yellow, 46 feet tall; 'Moonshadow', pale yellow to cream, 4 feet tall; 'Ring of Fire', petals dark red at base and golden yellow at tips, 56 feet tall; and 'Soraya', 56 feet tall, with heavy production of rich orange flowers. 'Teddy Bear', only 112 feet tall, has fully double, 6 inches-wide flowers that look like pompons.

Kinds without pollen, classified as Helianthus xhybridus, have the advantage of not shedding on tabletops. Many have a branching growth pattern, producing several flowers on each plant. Look for Large Flowered Mix, yellow, red, and bronze, 610 feet tall; 'Bright Bandolier', yellow-and-mahogany bicolor, 57 feet tall, branching; 'Cinnamon Sun', cinnamon-bronze, 47 feet tall; 'Moulin Rouge', burgundy, 56 feet., branching; 'Peach Passion', peachy yellow, 4 feet tall, branching; Pro Cut series, 4 feet tall, single stem; 'Prado Red', deep garnet, 3124 feet tall, branching; 'Strawberry Blonde', red with yellow tips, 67 feet tall, branching; 'The Joker', burgundy with yellow tips, 56 feet tall, single stalk; 'Valentine', light yellow, 45 feet tall, branching; and 'Velvet Queen', combination of bronze, burgundy, chestnut red, and mahogany, 68 feet tall, branching.

dark-eyed sunflower

helianthus atrorubens

  • Perennial.
  • Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8.
  • Native to southeastern U.S. Grows 56 feet tall, not quite as wide, with coarse, bristly foliage and 2 inches yellow flower heads centered in dark purple.
  • Monarch has semidouble flowers somewhat resembling the quilled flowers of a cactus-form dahlia.

helianthus 'Lemon Queen

  • Perennial.
  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • Selected from a hybrid of two species native to the U.S., this stately plant grows 68 feet tall, 23 feet wide.
  • Numerous pale yellow, brown-centered, 2 inches flowers appear in late summer.
  • Perfect for back of casual border or in combination with large ornamental grasses.
  • Takes moist or dry soil.
  • Does not require staking, provided soil is not too rich and plants are not overfertilized.

maximilian sunflower

helianthus maximilianii

  • Perennial.
  • Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8.
  • Native to central and southwestern U.S. Clumps of 10 feet stems clothed in narrow, 8- to 10 inches leaves and topped with narrow spires of 3 inches yellow flowers.
  • Spreads to 3 feet wide.

smallhead sunflower

helianthus microcephalus

  • Perennial.
  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • Native from New Jersey to Florida.
  • To 36 feet tall, 23 feet wide.
  • Lance-shaped to ovate 3- to 4 inches-long leaves.
  • Clear yellow, 1- to 112 inches flowers.

helianthus xmultiflorus

  • Perennial.
  • Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-9.
  • Hybrid between Helianthus annuus and a perennial species.
  • To 5 feet high, 2123 feet wide, with thin, toothed, 3- to 8 inches-long leaves and numerous 3 inches-wide flower heads with yellow centers.
  • Excellent for cutting.
  • Flowers of 'Capenoch Star' are single, lemon-yellow with a large central brown disk.
  • Recommended double-flowered types include bright yellow 'Flore Pleno', golden yellow 'Loddon Gold', and golden yellow 'Sunshine Daydream' (with numerous small blooms that resemble dahlias).

willowleaf sunflower

helianthus salicifolius

  • Perennial.
  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • Native to the central U.S. Grows 68 feet tall and 3 feet wide, with narrow, gracefully drooping leaves to 8 inches long.
  • Stems are topped by profuse 2 inches yellow flowers with purplish brown centers.
  • Looks somewhat like Helianthus angustifolius but leaves are narrower.
  • First Light is compact at 34 feet tall and wide, and 'Low Down' is smaller still, growing 11 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

jerusalem artichoke

helianthus tuberosus

  • Perennial.
  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • From eastern and central North America.
  • Also grown as a commercial crop; tubers are edible and sold in markets under the name 'sunchokes'.
  • Grows 610 feet tall, 3 feet wide, with bright yellow flower heads.
  • Oval leaves 8 inches long.
  • Spreads readily and can become a pest.
  • Best to harvest tubers every year and save out two or three for replanting.
  • If controlled, makes a good, quick temporary screen or hedge.

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