Several people have asked me about the difference between the members of the Black-eyed Susan family, Rudbeckia. We offer 4 different Rudbeckia, and there is one for every purpose. Here is a quick blog post about which of those "yellow daisy things" is right for you.
Black-eyed Susans - Rudbeckia hirta
For many of you, this was the flower that grandma had in her garden. Back-eyed Susans are the gold (!) standard for a tough, colorful, drought-resistant, deer-resistant, low maintenance, easy to grow, versatile wildflower. They grow 2-3' tall and bloom from midsummer to fall.
Black-eyed Susans work great in a mixed bed with Common Yarrow, Harebell, and Northern Blazing Star. You can naturalize them into fields, along driveways, over drainfields, and even lawns, since they are unfazed by being mowed. They like the dry sandy loam found in much of the U.P., even in pine forest areas. Best in full sun to dappled shade.
These flowers don't fill in very densely and they are a biennial or short-lived perennial, which means they often die after flowering. Usually this is not a problem because they reseed themselves effectively. But if they don't like the site, they won't reseed and come back.
Black-eyed Susans are popular with pollinators and are the host plant for Checkerspot butterflies. Birds will occasionally eat the seeds, especially goldfinches. They are native to the U.P. and ours are from U.P. genotype seeds, so you know they will survive our weather and support our ecosystem.
Best for: mixed plantings, lawns, habitat restoration, and difficult soils
Showy Coneflower - Rudbeckia fulgida
Showy Coneflower, also known as Orange Coneflower, is like Black-eyed Susan's fancy big brother. Native to southern Michigan, Showy Coneflower is also easy to grow, but it is clump-forming and spreads slowly by rhizome, making it a better choice for the "drifts of color" approach to native plantings that is currently popular. It is simply showier - denser, with more presence and more blooms per square foot.
Showy Coneflower is also a perennial, and its ability to spread by rhizome means you don't have to worry about it reseeding in order to come back next year. It grows 2-3' in height, and flowers from mid-summer to frost. Showy Cones are tolerant of drought and resistant to deer, though less so than Black-eyed Susans. They need better soil (rich to average) and a touch more moisture than Black-eyed Susans, especially when getting established.
Showy Coneflowers are popular with pollinators and are a host plant for a number of interesting moths. However, because they are not native to the U.P., they are a second choice for habitat creation.
Best for: Planting in dramatic drifts, long-season color for gardens
Sweet Black-eyed Susan - Rudbeckia subtomentosa
Sweet Black-eyed Susan is another southern Michigan plant, but it really is sweet. The mildly anise-scented foliage earns it a second common name of Fragrant Coneflower. This is a taller plant, from 3-5' and it prefers richer soils and more moisture. It will tolerate part shade. However, if it gets too much moisture, fertilizer, or shade, support may be required.
Sweet Black-eyed Susan is a perennial with attractive foliage and makes a good cut flower. It blooms from mid-summer to frost. Best in medium moisture, well-drained loam in full sun. It is wind resistant, can grow in clay, and is somewhat deer resistant. These vertically enthusiastic flowers are slightly more yellow than Black-eyed Susans and add loose clumps of height, texture, and bright color to a garden.
The numerous flowers and long bloom time make they extra attractive to pollinators, and they are a host plant for a number of interesting moths and Checkerspot butterflies. However, because they are not native to the U.P., they are a second choice for habitat creation. Pairs well with New England Aster, Flat-topped Aster, and Marsh Blazingstar. For the rest of May, Sweet Black-eyed Susan will be $1 off per plant with code Sweet1 at checkout!
Best for: garden accents and backdrops, rain gardens, cut flowers, fragrance
Cutleaf Coneflower - Rudbeckia laciniata
Cutleaf Coneflower is a U.P. native plant with presence. Cutleaf Coneflower can reach 7 feet or more and is a vigorous spreader in the wet, rich, thicket habitats it favors. In regular garden soil it does not get quite as tall or spread as aggressively, but it spreads by rhizome may not be the best choice for small spaces. In most cases, this plant will fill its habitat with enthusiasm, making it a good choice for creating visual barriers. In fact, one of its common names, Outhouse Weed, probably originated with this plant's ability to create a little privacy where it was most needed.
The individual flowers have a classic wild coneflower look, with reflexed (drooping) yellow rays and greenish-yellow centers that inspire one of its many other common names - Green-headed Coneflower. The flowers are showy and numerous, with a long bloom time from July until frost. Deeply cut foliage is attractive in its own right.
The Audubon Native Plant Database for beneficial bird plants lists Cutleaf Coneflower as an important species for birds in our area, especially Goldfinches, who eat the seeds. Cutleaf Coneflower is popular with pollinators and is a host plant for a number of interesting moths and Checkerspot butterflies. Our plants are from U.P. genotype seed, so you know they will survive our weather and support our ecosystem.
Best for: naturalizing areas, habitat creation, garden backdrops, texture
From dry to wet, and short to tall, there is a Rudbeckia for everyone!
As always, we recommend sticking to the wild, genetically diverse native Rudbeckia. Avoid anything with "quotation" names indicating a cultivar, e.g., Rudbeckia hirta "Sunset". Cultivars or nativars with genetically selected alterations to flower color, petal arrangement, or leaves can make the plant unrecognizable to insects that need it as part of their life cycle, depriving both insects and birds of habitat and food.
We will feature Michigan native Sweet Black-eyed Susan this month and offer $1 off each plant with code Sweet1 at checkout.
See you at the Marquette Downtown Farmers' and Artists' Market this Saturday, and thanks for planting native!