Monday, November 16, 2009

Lakeside Sunflower - Helianthus carnosus








Florida is the "Sunshine State" and the "Land of Flowers", so it is only appropriate that we have a diversity of sunflowers - members of the aster family in the genus Helianthus.  Sunflowers are spread across Florida in a wide variety of habitats and many are quite common.  Lakeside sunflower (H. carnosus) is an exception to that; being quite rare and listed as state Endangered species.  Lakeside sunflower is endemic to Florida and only found naturally in 5 counties in the northeastern peninsula. 
This sunflower differs in several respects to many of our more-common species.  For one, it is relatively short.  For much of the year, it exists as a mass of strap-shaped basal leaves.  While a few other species, most notably the rayless sunflower (H. radula), grow rather low, their basal leaves are not almost succulent and strap-like.  The flower stalks stay relatively short too.  Instead of standing 6 feet tall or more like many of our common species, lakeside sunflower rarely reaches more than 3 feet tall.   
As its common name implies, lakeside sunflower is a species of wet-soil habitats. Its short stature also implies that it is adapted to open sunny locations, surrounded by other species that don't often get too tall either.  These conditions are more typically found around the edges of lakes and marshes; not forested wetlands.
Lakeside sunflower blooms during the summer months.  The flower heads are typical for many in this genus; 2-3 inches across with bright yellow ray and disc flowers.  They attract a wide variety of pollinators, including butterflies and bees, and they are especially showy.  Of course, sunflower seeds are important to seed-eating birds and this plant is no exception.
Lakeside sunflower is occasionally offered commercially through Florida native plant nurseries.  Alexa and I purchased ours several years ago and we have successfully grown ours in our Pinellas County landscape.  We have found it to be relatively easy to maintain and to propagate from seed.  This is not a plant that fares well  if allowed to dry out.  We have ours in a "marsh/savannah" we created in our side yard and we keep this area wet to moist.  To date, our plants have not suckered aggressively like some of the other sunflowers, but they do produce a few suckers which become new plants near the parents.
Given the ability to provide it the conditions it requires, lakeside sunflower is an interesting and beautiful addition to a wildflower garden - and another reason to consider adding a wet-soil area to your home landscape.  We would consider adding it to our list of plants we propagate at Hawthorn Hill should a demand arise for it.

1 comment:

  1. I purchased two lakeside sunflower plants at the USF native plant sale today. I intended to place them in a raised bed that I have next to a wet area, in full/almost full sun. After reading your post above I am concerned that the plants will not live in the raised bed. I would like to know if it would be feasible to keep them in their pots and place the pots in the wet area instead. The downside is that the wet area is shaded by firebush, coral bean, button bush and pond cypress that were planted in the wet area: there may not be enough sun for the sunflowers. Any suggestion(s) would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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