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. Live against the marshlands in Steinhatchee. I purchased 6 plants a month ago and purchased 6 more yesterday. One part of the property has to be pumped to stop standing water from encroaching iiinto the backyard during these rainy months.plant is doing wonderful

    1. I too live in Steinhatchee with the same conditions. Planting mine purchased at Native Nursery in Tallahassee

  2. Lakeside sunflower is an upland species, despite its name. I hope your plants thrive, but if they get inundated regularly, they may decline.


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