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This sunflower is a standout with its smooth, reddish-purple central stem and numerous yellow, daisy-like heads arranged in a loose cluster. It blooms for 6 to 8 weeks from late summer to fall and does best when sited in rich, moist soils in full sun; however, this hardy plant is tolerant of drought once established and forms large colonies that are great at blocking out invasive species in open areas. There is considerable variation in the size of plants across different locations. When planted singly, it may grow up to 12 feet tall, but when planted in groups, it may only reach 5 to 6 feet. The genus name is derived from the Latin terms anthos, meaning flower, and helios, which refers to the sun.

 

Sawtooth sunflower can be found growing wild in moist prairies or meadows, disturbed habitats, near streams, and along ditches or roadsides. Use as a backdrop behind smaller shrubs, in mass plantings, or as a hedgerow.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows 5-12' tall.

 

Prefers full sun.

 

Prefers rich, moist, well-drained soils.

 

Individual flowers are 3-4” across with 10-20 ray flowers (petals) and yellow central disk flowers from July to October. The center disk forms a head of dry seeds.

 

Leaves are up to 8" long and 2½" wide, slightly to strongly serrated, rough textured, and pointed at the tip.

There is very little branching except for flowering stems on the upper half of the plant. Stems sometimes have a white, waxy coating.

 

Wildlife Value:

Like other sunflowers, sawtooth is a native perennial herb with high wildlife value, hosting over 70 types of caterpillars, including the silvery and gorgone checkerspot butterflies, rustic sphinx and Isabella tiger moths (all pictured here in that order, preceded by their caterpillars), plus at least 11 specialist moths. Its nectar and pollen attract bees, butterflies, moths, and other pollinators. Long-tongued bees such as honey, bumble, and cuckoo (such as the red cuckoo bee pictured here) are especially attracted to sawtooth. Other insect visitors include syrphid flies, bee flies, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Many additional insects feed on the foliage, plant juices, pith of stems, and developing seeds.

 

Sunflower seeds are a favorite for upland game birds and songbirds that help spread the seeds, including bobwhite, mourning dove, redwing blackbird, and American goldfinch. Small mammals feed on smaller plants, and deer browse on the taller plants.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

A tea has been used to reduce fevers and loosen phlegm, and the stems or flowers were used to treat malaria and burns. The seeds, which have diuretic and expectorant properties, were used to treat respiratory issues.

 

The edible plant is an excellent source of vitamins A and E. The seeds are eaten raw or roasted, ground for use in flour, or pressed to extract the oil.

 

The lightweight, pithy stalks have been used in the production of insulation and construction materials, and they are being researched as possible components of a sustainable type of concrete.

Sunflower, Sawtooth, Helianthus grosseserratus

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