In 2016, I was introduced to a new native sunflower, new to me anyways. Willowleaf sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius), was growing in the prairie ditches on my was to an event in Ft. Scott, KS. Back at Grimm’s, we ordered some ourselves and planted a few plants around the office. Let me tell you, this plant is impressive.
Willowleaf sunflower naturally grows in the southern half of Kansas and southward. It grows 6 to 15 feet tall and 2 to 6 feet wide. Most plants have multiple stalks covered with flowers from late August to October. The leaves are thin and narrow, a great textural addition to the garden. However, if you want to plant the native species, be ready to either stake it or plant is with tall, native grasses that support it.
Cultivars new to the market but not yet available at Grimm’s Gardens include ‘Autumn Gold’ and ‘First Light’. These cultivars boast small size and stature with the same bloom power and texture of the species. They grow 2-4 feet wide by 2-4 feet tall. They are perfect for borders, rock gardens, pollinator gardens, and maybe even containers! Willowleaf sunflower is drought tolerant, likes full sun, and attracts a wide range of butterflies and pollinators.