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This hardy sunflower lookalike produces an exuberant display of sunshiny blooms starting in summer, a bit earlier than true sunflowers.  Its stiff, upright stems with triangular leaves lend the plant a bushy shape perfect for the rear of garden beds and borders. It grows 3 to 5 feet tall and thrives in full sun and moist, well-drained soils, yet it adapts to a wide range of soil types, including dry and clay, and withstands occasional drought.  In shadier conditions, it becomes leggy and may require staking.    


Although it’s in the same family as true sunflowers, early (aka false sunflower) is in the genus Heliopsis (from the Greek "helios," meaning “like the sun”) and is distinguished by fertile ray florets that persist on the flower heads.  True sunflowers are in the genus Helianthus, and their infertile rays wither and fall away.  


The golden-yellow ray florets of early sunflower surround a cone-shaped center disk of golden-brown florets that become achenes--dry, one-seeded fruits that do not split open to release their seeds.  Songbirds relish the achenes, and the flowers attract multitudes of pollinators.


There are myriad ways to incorporate early sunflower into the landscape.  It has a clumping habit and is not an aggressive spreader, but its deep, fibrous roots can help stabilize soils to prevent erosion.  Its ability to withstand occasional drought and grow in poor soils makes it suitable for water-wise gardens and areas where other plants won’t thrive.  When using the plant in beds, borders, and gardens, make sure it's accessible so you can gather the sturdy stems and long-lasting blooms for cut-flower arrangements. Deadheading spent flowers will promote new blooms, and dividing the plants after several years will keep the centers from dying out.  


Native habitats include moist to dry open woodlands, borders of woods, grasslands, prairies, savannas, and fields.  In addition to gardens and borders, ox-eye (another common name) excels in wildflower meadows and naturalized areas.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 3-5’ tall and 2-4’ wide.


Prefers full sun and tolerates light shade.


Thrives in moist, well-drained loamy, rocky, chalky, sandy, or clay soils; tolerates occasional dry conditions.


A cone-shaped cluster of yellowish-brown disk flowers is surrounded by 8-20 yellow ray florets with slightly notched tips.  Blooming season is June-September, followed by clusters of brown achenes.


Lance- or triangular-shaped green leaves are rough textured with toothed edges.  


Wildlife Value:

Host plant to larvae of many species of Lepidoptera, including the sunflower moth caterpillar.  The flowers are visited by honey and native bees, false sunflower bees, beneficial wasps, pollinating flies, butterflies, skippers, and beetles.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Ox-eye has been used to treat lung issues and malaria. A tea of brewed leaves has been used to reduce fevers and loosen phlegm. 


The flowers have a mild taste and may be used in salads


Flower photo used with permission from Erin Salsberry.

Sunflower, Early, Heliopsis helianthoides

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Out of Stock
  • Once we're certain we have good germination, we'll make these plants available for prepurchase.

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