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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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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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Tuesday - July 05, 2011

From: Nashville, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Pests, Herbs/Forbs, Wildflowers
Title: Petals not developing on blackeyed susans from Nashville TN
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have an established "patch" of black eyes susans. This year, the leaves are beautiful, the centers black..but the petals are practically non existent. They didn't seem to develop correctly. Any idea what's up?

ANSWER:

Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima (Blackeyed susan) appears on this USDA Plant Profile map to be native in or near Davidson Co., and you say your patch is established, so the soils should not be the problem. This plant is pollinated by bees and flies but also attracts butterflies, and is a larval host for the Silvery Checkerspot.

Do the petals look like they have been chewed at all, or are they stunted or misshapen? Take a look at this page of images of Blackeyed Susan from our Native Plant Image Gallery. There seems to be quite a variety of leaf types and colorations, but no closeups, at least, of flowers with stunted petals. If you find any caterpillars, they could be the culprit, and are probably the larvae of the butterfly mentioned above.

If you have eliminated all those problems from consideration, we can only fall back on the weather. Here in Texas, we are in such an extreme heat wave and drought that flowers bloom, set seed and go into near dormancy, just to survive. The Blackeyed Susan is a biennial or can be a short-lived perennial. This plant does not need to be fertilized, but it does like some moisture. Our best bet is that it is adapting itself to adverse conditions, but continuing to set seed (the black center), and hold on until the weather gets a little easier on plants and people.

 

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