Sunday, May 30, 2010
Smooth Oxeye - Heliopsis helianthoides
Smooth oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides) is so named (Latin name, that is) because of its close resemblance to two other members of the aster family - the tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.) and the sunflowers (Helianthus spp.). But, despite its outward similarities, smooth oxeye is distinct. It is a member of the woodland understory in six panhandle Florida counties, but is far more common to our north and is resident to nearly every state and province in the eastern two-thirds of North America. Although it often occurs in open habitats in states to our north, in Florida it is usually found in filtered or patchy sun beneath open deciduous forests or pinelands.
Smooth oxeye in Florida is a 2-3 ft. perennial with stiff, branched stems, sunflower-like heads, and opposite, toothed leaves. The leaves are lance- to triangular-shaped and between 1-4 inches long. Plants arise early each spring and reach their mature height by late April to early May. Blooming occurs shortly thereafter and continues for several months - sometimes until late summer. Each flower head is composed of 8 yellow ray flowers (approximately 3/4 inches long) surrounding a central disc of yellow disc flowers.
This species looks like a member of the true sunflowers, but its rays persist on the flower heads instead of withering and falling away once blooming is over. Like the sunflowers, however, it is a wonderful wildflower for nectaring butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Smooth oxeye makes an excellent addition to a woodland understory planting where it adds color and texture. Plant it along the edges of shady areas or in sunspots where it might get a couple of hours of sun each day. Do not plant this in areas of deep shade. Because individual plants are rather thin, it should be massed for best effect; plant it in clusters of 5-7. Like most members of the aster family, it will reseed and spread if it is in a location where it is "happy."
Smooth oxeye is only rarely offered by commercial nursery sources in Florida and it may take some time to find plants. Hopefully, this will change as a wider assortment of Florida wildflowers are grown and sold. If you choose to purchase your plants from out-of-state sources, be careful to get material from our neighboring Southeastern states and not from states further north.