Sunflowers are the quintessential flower of summer. Whether they are dotting the landscape with their golden orbs or adding a festive touch to a picnic bouquet, they can’t help but inspire smiles.
Sunflowers are in the genus Helianthus, a large group consisting of more than 150 species of annuals and perennials. The perennial species are easy to care for, needing full sun and protection from the wind. Most thrive in well-drained soils, but some species can be considered aggressive spreaders in the garden although we commonly overlook any inconvenience due to the beauty of the blooms whenever they appear.
One spectacular species to consider is H. maximilianii or Maximillian sunflower, a quick-growing perennial reaching about 10 feet tall and covered with numerous golden yellow flowers in late summer and fall. This sunflower is great when used for fresh cut flowers. The bloom ranges from 4 to 6 inches in diameter, and the long, thin leaves reach about 8 inches in length. H. angustifolius or swamp sunflower is another similar species found in North Carolina in moist soils and ditches. Helianthus x multiflorus is one of the most interesting Helianthus hybrids available. It is a clumping perennial, reaching 6 feet in height and spreading about 3 feet wide. The full flowers are domed and can reach 6 inches in diameter. The most common cultivars are ‘Capenoch Star,’ ‘Loddon Gold’ and ‘Soleil d’Or’.
Among the annuals to consider are ‘Autumn Beauty’ and ‘Teddy Bear’. Both are smaller than the common annual sunflower, which can reach 10 feet tall. Their smaller size makes them perfect for home gardeners.
To see the beauty and impact of sunflowers in a mixed border, visit the JC Raulston Arboretum. Eight different Helianthus species and hybrids reside in the mixed perennial border adjacent to the All-America Trial Garden.
Diane Ashburn Turner