Saturday, June 20, 2009

Resindot Sunflower - Helianthus resinosus

Of the 17 species of sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) native to Florida, very few are regularly offered to the public through nurseries associated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN). And, most of those, except the ubiquitous beach sunflower (H. debilis), are wetland plants and poorly adapted to most residental landscapes. That is a shame, as sunflowers are some of our most treasured wildflowers and a genus that never fails to attract attention in the garden.

Sunflowers in general are important components of a wildflower garden for several reasons. They produce showy large flowers for many months during the summer and fall. The outer ray flowers generally have large yellow petals while the numerous disc flowers inside the head attract a wide variety of insect pollinators, including butterflies and bees. Once the flowers are pollinated, they produce a great many seeds. While not as tasty to us as the commercial sunflower, these seeds are significant to the diet of many songbirds, small mammals, and other wildlife. Sunflowers are way more than just a pretty face.

Sunflowers are perennials. When they are happy, they return year after year to perform their magic. They also multiply by underground suckers. Take this into consideration before planting them. Purchase a few plants and let them fill in the holes. If they are not happy and perish, you have not wasted much money. And, if they multiply a bit more than you expected, you can give them to friends. Let the suckers become well established, dig them up with a small trowel and repot them so they can establish a good root system before they are transplanted elsewhere.

To the best of my knowledge, Hawthorn Hill is the first native plant nursery in Florida to offer Resindot Sunflower (H. resinosus) to the public. We are excited to make this wonderful species available because we believe it may well be Florida's best sunflower for residential wildflower gardens. It certainly has a lot going for it.

Resindot sunflower is a resident of the sandhill ecosystem. Sandhills are characterized by deep well-drained sandy soils and little tree-canopy shade. Plants of this community have to be tough and resilient to survive. In particular, they must be adapted to low fertility, occasional drought, and full sun.

Resindot sunflower makes a commanding presence in this community. Full-grown specimens may reach 6 feet in height and have more than a dozen blooms open at any time. In our Pinellas County landscape, the resindot sunflowers are now two years planted after growing them from seed. They are one of the first of our wildflowers to appear in the spring - after a short dormancy underground - and they begin flowering by mid-June. They then keep blooming until late fall.

The flower heads are large - often more than 6 inches across and the ray petals are broad and bright yellow. The foliage is covered by stiff hairs inside small glands, hence its common name. The leaves are deep green and stiff.

Our plants have produced suckers in our garden, but they have spread very slowly compared to the wetland species we also grow. The plants we offer for sale are grown from seed produced each year in our landscape. These first-year plants will bloom, but they will not reach their full potential until the following year's growing cycle.

If you admire wild sunflowers, you can't go wrong with this one. Resindot sunflower is only found naturally in three counties in extreme north Florida (and in much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain), but it has been extremely hardy in the Pinellas County landscapes we have planted it in. We believe that it should be adaptable to nearly any well-drained site from north to south-central Florida and we'd like to see you give it a try.

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