The sunflower, botanically known as Helianthus, is a genus that includes over 70 species of annuals and perennials in the daisy family, Asteraceae, which are native to North and Central America, with a select few species in South America. Flower heads come in various shapes and sizes and are known for following the path of the sun each day, hence the origin of the common name. These blooms bring a vibrant pop of color to the harvest season, and now is a great time to enjoy the Arboretum’s collection of seasonal and perennial varieties which generally bloom from late summer into fall. Currently, you can find over 6 different species and many more varieties in the gardens, including Helianthus augustifolius (swamp sunflower), Helianthus decapetalus (thin-leaf sunflower), Helianthus divaricatus (woodland sunflower), Helianthus salicifolius (willow-leaved sunflower), Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke), and other hybrid sunflower cultivars.
Thin-leaf sunflowers can be distinguished from other sunflowers by their large, narrow leaves. They bloom from August to October and only grow 2 to 5 feet tall. In a 10-petal ray, the bright yellow flowers add some fall fun in the Pollinator and Bird Garden.
Woodland sunflowers typically bloom from July to September. They grow 2 to 6 feet tall, and the 2-inch yellow flowers appear on rigid stems. No less than 250 of these sunny flowers can be found in the Pollinator and Bird Garden.
Willow-leaved sunflowers are smaller, growing up to 2 feet tall, and are compact. They feature clusters of bright-yellow flowers atop whitish-green stems. ‘Table Mountain’ is a willow-leaved sunflower cultivar that typically appears compact and grows 1.5 feet tall. Yellow flowers are featured in flat-topped clusters. Our willow-leaved sunflowers can be enjoyed at the North Terrace, in full bloom from September to October.
Jerusalem artichoke is a large, wild sunflower that can grow up to 10 feet tall. From August to September, they bloom into showy yellow flowers, featuring rough, hairy stems, and can be found in the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden.
One of our most prolific native hybrid sunflowers is a cultivar named ‘Lemon Queen,’ which lasts several weeks as it blooms late summer to fall. It does its name justice by featuring an abundance of large, pale-yellow flowers with a dark-yellow central disk. This sunflower reaches 8 feet and has a bush-like appearance, blanketing the beds in the Pollinator and Bird Garden.
Additionally, you will find a few seasonal varieties planted within our fall displays and containers, such as Helianthus annuus ‘Teddy Bear’ that is a whimsical favorite, popular with children, with its furry ‘teddy bear–like’ double-flowered blooms and dwarfed size. Helianthus (unknown cultivar) Sunfinity™ is a hybrid sunflower cultivar and is also heavily utilized due to its rapid growth period, continuous elongated bloom period, and multiple branches, making it a revolutionary favorite all season long. Both of these seasonal varieties also double as great cut-flowers for a harvest bouquet!