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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - June 15, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Drought Tolerant, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Alternative to swamp sunflower for Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I love this forum and have learned so much from it! Do you know of an alternative to Helianthus angustifolius L. (Swamp sunflower) that requires less water and would be more drought tolerant for urban native landscaping in Austin, Texas? It'd be preferable it reach no more than 2-3 feet in height and that it have yellow to orange blooms.

ANSWER:

Thanks for the nice words, but we are NOT a forum. We are a team of mostly volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Several of our team members have degrees in botany, zoology and horticulture; others are just dedicated gardeners. We do our research in our own Native Plant Database and other materials in books and the Internet;  we sometimes request help from outside experts who really know what they are talking about.

To find a less water-centric sunflower, we are going to go to our Native Plant Database and type in the genus name helianthus in the name box at the top of the page. This gave us a list of 34 members of the helianthus genus native to North America. Using the sidebar at the right-hand side of the page, we selected on Texas, dry soil, orange and yellow colors and 1-3 ft. in height. This gave us exactly 1 choice, Helianthus occidentalis (Fewleaf sunflower).

According to this USDA Plant Profile map, this flower is native near to Travis County. It grows to 30-40" tall, likes full sun, moist or dry soil, and blooms yellow. If you would like a few more choices, we can eliminate the height restriction and get 3 more possibilities:

Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower)- 4-6 ft. tall, sun, low water use, blooms yellow August to November

Helianthus strumosus (Paleleaf woodland sunflower) - 3-6 ft., dry soil, sun or part shade, blooms yellow July to September

Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke) - 3-6 ft. tall, blooms red, pink, yellow August to October, low water use, sun

 

From the Image Gallery


Fewleaf sunflower
Helianthus occidentalis

Maximilian sunflower
Helianthus maximiliani

Paleleaf woodland sunflower
Helianthus strumosus

Jerusalem artichoke
Helianthus tuberosus

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