Tom's Blog

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ox-eye sunflower in bloom

The weather is getting hot and we can now start to think about summer. One of our earliest summer prairie plants, ox-eye (or false) sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), is now starting to flower. This plant is the forerunner of a whole series of prairie forbs that will make our prairie plantings so attractive in summer. Also, this species is also present in most of our savannas, where its color will provide a welcome contrast to the drabber savanna forbs.

According to Cochrane and Iltis, this species is fairly shade tolerant and hence may be more likely a savanna than prairie species. However, in our mesic prairies (Pocket, Valley, and Crane) it is now quite common and very showy.

As its name implies, it is not a "true" sunflower (genus Helianthus). One simple way to distinguish Heliopsis is that its ray flowers are fertile, whereas those of Helianthus are not. Pull one of the ray flowers off and look for the stamen and pistil attached, a condition not seen in a true sunflower. Although the ray flowers are fertile, most of the seeds are produced by the central disk flowers.

This is a good butterfly plant. Also, its seeds are a prime food source for songbirds in winter. It is sometimes planted in food plots for attracting birds, deer, and other wildlife. However, at Pleasant Valley Conservancy we have used it only as a minor part of a seed mix for planting mesic prairies and savannas.

Ox-eye sunflower has a long flowering period, so we should be seeing individual plants flowering over the next month or so.


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