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Sunflower, Western - Helianthus occidentalis

Sunflower, Western - Helianthus occidentalis

Helianthus Occindentalis is also known as Western Sunflower, but it does not reach very far west, occurring primarily in Wisconsin. This perennial wildflower is a sandy savanna plant and is native to southern Michigan, but has made its way to the southern UP through Wisconsin. It enjoys jack pine and oak-dominant habitat, but also sandy fields and railroad grades. Plant reaches 3 feet tall and flowers from July to September with a yellow blossom. It prefers full sun to partial shade, medium to dry soil and will grow in clay, loam or sand.


Best for sunny, sandy or rocky locations and likely to be out-competed in richer soils. Western Sunflower is drought-adapted with the bulk of the leaves on the bottom and a moderate-height flower stalk with few leaves. Forms colonies slowly by rhizome and under conditions with little competition, can form a groundcover. 


Native sunflowers are favorites of many kinds of bees, moths, and other pollinators. Their leaves and stems are the food host for Checkerspots and other butterflies, as well as a variety of other insects. Some of those insects are aphids and thrips, which in turn are eaten by hummingbirds. Other birds eat the larger larva. The plants and rhizomes are eaten directly by herbivores such as deer, rabbits, and gophers. In the late season, the seeds provide high-energy food for many bird species. Protect plants from herbivores when planting. Later, when the plants start spreading, welcome the grazing as a natural way to control the patch. Native sunflowers are keystone habitat species and should be included in your planting wherever there is room.

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