Saturday, September 19, 2015

Variable-leaved Sunflower - Helianthus heterophyllus

Variable-leaved sunflower (Helianthus heterophyllus) is one of 18 species of sunflowers native to the Sunshine State. It occurs throughout the central and western portion of the Panhandle in low/wet open habitats such as roadside ditches, savannas and wet pine flatwoods. It also is reported from much of the Southeast Coastal Plain - from Louisiana to North Carolina.  This is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter.
Many of our native sunflowers can be tricky to differentiate by species. Variable-leaved sunflower is most easily identified by its relative lack of leaves along the stem. It produces a tuft of 4-6" long linear leaves in spring, They are rough to the touch - a result of the many stiff hairs along the surface and leaf edge. Though a few of these leaves may occur a short distance up the 4-5 foot tall hairy stem, it is mostly leafless. A single flower head is produced at the top of each by mid-summer.
The composite flowers are comprised of 1-2 dozen bright yellow ray petals surrounding a dark center of disk flowers. The size of these flower heads is variable, but can be 4 inches across. Like other sunflowers, they are exceptional at attracting pollinating insects and the ripened seeds provide food for various seed-eating birds.
Variable-leaved sunflower is not propagated by any of the native nurseries in Florida associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, though other species are commonly offered. It would require sunny moist locations to prosper and it would require ample space as it has a tendency to spread by underground rhizomes.

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