Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Small Woodland Sunflower - Helianthus microcephalus

Small woodland sunflower (Helianthus microcephalus) is uncommon in Florida, found only in six counties in the central panhandle, but is rather wide ranging elsewhere in eastern North America. As its name implies it is most common in upland woodland edges - not in deep shade, but in sunny patches and edges of wooded areas.
This perennial herbaceous species dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges in spring.  It quickly attains a mature height of 4-6 feet by early summer and the flower stalks form at the top of these stems.  Like many native sunflowers, the basal leaves are nearly absent once it starts growing upward. The leaves along the stem are linear and opposite each other Each leaf is lance-shaped, with a few teeth along the margin and rough to the touch.  One key characteristic to distinguish it from other somewhat similar species is its very short petiole - the stem that connects the leaf blade to the main stem.
Flowering occurs in summer.  The plant above was photographed in mid-June.  This also helps distinguish it from species that bloom in late summer to fall.  Numerous flowers are produced atop the main stems, but they are only about 1-1.5 inches across. The central disc is especially small compared to our other native sunflowers and is a good diagnostic for telling it apart from other sunflowers. These bright yellow blooms are excellent for attracting pollinators and the small seeds have value for some songbirds - as with all sunflowers.
Small woodland sunflower seems to have attracted little attention among most commercial growers, but it has recently been added to the plant list of Trillium Gardens in Tallahassee. Because of its stature, small wood sunflower makes a nice accent in a border and a good long distance feature in a larger landscape. Small wood sunflower grows in full sun to filtered shade in moist to dry soils. It tends to form a mass or clump and spreads easily throughout the garden by runners and seed.  I am excited to have it being offered and we have added it to our landscape at Hawthorn Hill with the idea of evaluating it here, outside its natural range.  We do not intend to propagate it, however, and will leave that to Dan and Vanessa at Trillium Gardens.

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