FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Helianthus microcephalus is an upright rhizomatous perennial wildflower. The attractive leaves are lance shaped and deep green with entire or serrated edges. From mid-summer until autumn, golden 1” daisies grace the plant and entice bees, butterflies and other pollinators. This sunflower thrives in sunny sites with average well drained soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Helianthus microcephalus occurs in the eastern United States from Connecticut to Missouri and south from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana.
Habitats include dry or mesic open woods, soggy creek margins, rocky slopes, thickets, sandy fields and shaded roadsides.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 4-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Helianthus microcephalus is an attractive woodland sunflower with smooth green or burgundy tinged stems.
Leaf arrangement varies with the lower leaves being opposite and upper leaves alternate.
The blades are 3-6” long with short petioles around 1” or less. They are lance shaped with smooth edges or with scattered teeth and a wedge or “v” shaped base. The upper surface is scabrous and the lower surface has scattered patches of matted hairs.
Stems terminate in numerous small daisy-like flowerheads. The heads consist of 5-8 bright yellow slightly ribbed rays surrounding a cluster of golden disc florets.
Dark clusters of achenes form after flowering.
Plants grow up to 4-6’ tall with 2-3’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Helianthus microcephalus is easy to grow in part sun to part shade with moist well drained acidic soil.
Plants tolerate sun, drought, sandy or clay soil and slightly alkaline pH.
Deadheading can stimulate rebloom and prevent reseeding. Plants can also be cut back by half in early summer to promote strong stems. This species can be divided in early spring every 3-4 years if growth is aggressive.
Helianthus microcephalus is relatively pest free and unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
LANDSCAPE USES: This is a good choice for a Wildlife Garden or Meadow. Plants are also used as Butterfly Nectar Plants or as part of a Grouping or Mass. Helianthus microcephalus has Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders and Roadsides.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try planting Helianthus microcephalus with Andropogon virginicus, Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’, Eupatorium fistulosum, Muhlenbergia capillaris, Phlox maculata or Vernonia noveboracensis.
Helianthus divaricatus could be substituted in some situations. The two have similar flower appearance and cultural requirements. The flowers of Helianthus microcephalus, however, are much smaller.
TRIVIA: The flower nectar and pollen appeals to bees, butterflies and soldier beetles. Plants host caterpillars of American Painted Lady, Painted Lady and Spring Azure butterflies. Seeds are eaten by finches and other songbirds.
Helianthus microcephalus can be differentiated from similar species by its flower heads that are amongst the smallest of the genus. Heads have fewer ray florets than most other sunflowers and a smaller center with fewer disc florets. Blooming time is earlier than other native sunflowers beginning in mid-summer as opposed to late summer. Leaves have a very short petiole compared to similar species.
Helianthus microcephalus is also known as woodland sunflower and small-headed sunflower. The generic name is from the Latin and Greek words for “sun” (Helios) and “flower” (anthus). The specific epithet is from the Greek for “small” (micro) and “head” (cephalus).