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Perennials: Maximilian’s Sunflower Helianthus


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  • Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), a native perennial of Texas, was named after the explorer naturalist Prince Maximilian of Germany, who conducted an American expedition of the West in the early 1800s. Maximilian sunflower is found from Texas north to Canada and on every prairie from east to west. American Indians planted them for food, oil and dye. Early American settlers believed that a bath in boiled sunflower blossoms would minimize the pain of arthritis.

    Description

  • Deer enjoy Maximilian sunflowers.

    Maximilian sunflowers are tall slender plants with a bright yellow blooms and pale green leaves. The unbranched stems can reach a height of 10 feet tall; however, they commonly grow 4 to 6 feet. The blossoms of the plant can reach up to 5 inches in diameter with the center eye of the flower being green or dark brown and measuring 1 inch across. Maximilian sunflowers bloom from August through November each year. In native conditions on prairies and in moist ditches, they form large colonies. Being heliotropes or sun lovers, their flower heads will follow the sun as it moves across the sky.

    Growing Conditions

  • Finches enjoy a dish of sunflower seeds.

    Finches enjoy a dish of sunflower seeds.

    Maximilian sunflowers prefer full sun and tolerate dry or moist conditions with various types of soils including sandy, limestone-based, medium loam or clay. Overly fertile soil will provide lush growth but weak stems that can fall over. Gardeners frequently stake the plants when stems begin to bend under the weight of the flower. To gather seeds, horticulturists recommend placing a small bag over the seed heads after the flowers have faded. Seed heads can be air-dried, separating seeds from the chaff. Seeds germinate best when chilled over the winter in a refrigerator. Clumps of plants can be divided in early spring and replanted adding extra water.

    Benefits

  • Maximilian sunflowers produce a heavy crop of seeds.

    Maximilian sunflowers produce a heavy crop of seeds.

    Maximilian sunflowers can provide food for many species of wildlife and insects. The seeds, presented in the fall, are enjoyed by a variety of birds, deer and other wildlife. The nectar from the abundant summer blossoms is attractive to bees and butterflies. As a perennial range plant, Maximilian sunflowers are eaten by livestock. In addition, the colony of tall plants offers shelter to smaller species. Used in ornamental gardens, this sunflower is bright, showy and can exhibit a slice of a wildflower meadow.

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