Black-Eyed Susan

I don’t have any Black-Eyed Susans in my garden right now, but I used to. A friend gave me a couple bags full, and I planted them in my yard. They grew well, flowered most of the summer, and spread like crazy. After several years, I wanted the space for something else, so I recycled them into the garden of another friend, where they continue to flourish.

Black-Eyed Susan is the common name for many species of plants in the genus Rudbeckia of the Asteraceae family. Carolus Linneaus, the man who gave us our organization system for all living things, once had a botany professor named Olof Rudbeck,  and apparently liked him well enough to name a genus after him.  As you might guess, Black-Eyed Susans have a dark, conical center, with lighter colored petals. To be picky, the center is really dark brown, or purplish brown, but it’s close to black. Two of the more well known species are Hirta and Fulgida. Though they are difficult to tell apart, the main difference is that Hirta varieties are annuals, while Fulgida varieties are perennials or biennials.

Rudbeckia hirta is typically an annual wildflower, one of the most common in the United States. It was originally native to the eastern part of the United States, but is now found in almost the entire continent. Unlike most plants I have focused on before, every species of Rudbeckia is native to North America.  The name hirta means hair, and came about because of the “hair” on the stems and leaves. This species can be frequently found on roadsides, in open fields, and in places where the soil has been disturbed. Almost any wildflower seed mix you can buy also includes Black-Eyed Susan.

Rudbeckia  Fulgida includes 7 varieties and is hardy in zones 3-10. It is commonly grown in gardens and makes long lasting cut flowers. It can be found in colors other than yellow, such as gold, red, orange and bi-color. Some varieties may be true perennials, depending on the zone, but others are biennials. This means that one year, they will form leaves, and the next year they will flower and die.

The plants in the Rudbeckia genus have more common names than most. I came across these 12 without looking very hard: Black-Eyed Susan, Blackiehead, Brown Betty, Brown Daisy, Gloriosa Daisy, Golden Jerusalem, Poorland Daisy, Yellow Daisy, Yellow Ox-Eye Daisy, Yellow Coneflower, Orange Coneflower and Prairie Coneflower. It’s kind of confusing that several names include the word coneflower. The well known Purple Coneflower and others in the Echinacea genus belong to the same family, but are more like cousins, than siblings, to the Rudbeckia species.

Black-Eyed Susans can be anywhere from 18 inches to 9 feet tall. They bloom mostly from June to August, and grow well in full sun, with regular watering. Deadheading also helps to keep the plant healthy and produce more blooms. They grow from seed easily, or can be divided if they are perennials. Seed from hybrid types may not grow to resemble the parent plant. All Black-Eyed Susans reseed themselves. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies are attracted to them. Apparently, deer prefer to eat the plants when they are young, but don’t like them once the leaves are hairy. Under the right conditions, Black-Eyed Susans can spread quickly, and become invasive, crowding out other plants. If you’re looking for a low maintenance, reliable plant that has provides plenty of color to your garden, this would be a good choice.

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3 Responses to “Black-Eyed Susan”

  1. Kem Says:

    And they’re the state flower of Maryland! Did you know there is a drink named after them? The Black-eyed Susan is served at the Preakness in Baltimore every year. I don’t know what’s in it, but it tastes terrible.

    • margaretsgarden Says:

      I did read that they are the state flower, though there was some controversy because they might not even be native to MD. The Preakness is actually called the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans, and the winning horse gets a blanket of black-eyed susans. As for the drink, the recipe varies, but most versions have vodka, rum, triple sec, orange juice, pineapple juice and a lime wedge.

  2. Kem Says:

    I read in the Balt Sun once that the blanket of black-eyed susans is either hot house raised or brought in from else where. They don’t bloom here until June and the race is the 3rd Sat in May. We’ve been to the race a couple of times–years ago. Judging by the recipe the drink should not have tasted as nasty as it did!

    Not native? Interesting. You see a lot of them along roadsides, so they at least like it here.

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