Native Plants 2: Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia, or Black-eyed Susan
Rudbeckia, native to much of the continental US, bloom throughout most of the summer

Black-eyed Susans are one of the most common native “wildflowers” in the continental US. Hearty and cheerful, they are famous for their ease of care and unpretentious beauty, have become garden staples, and are great for wild-flower gardens. Rudbeckia is native to the central US, they can be found from Massachusetts to Wyoming, and as far south as Florida and New Mexico. Self-seeding coneflowers requiring little other than dead-heading to extend blooming time, they will spread if given the space. The first summer after we bought our house they appeared in our backyard, blooming all along our garage. I’ve done nothing for them over the years — they return every summer, blooming despite my neglect, steadily drifting eastward in our yard.

Rudbeckia like full sun, can manage in part shade, and like well-drained soil that isn’t too rich– they handle drought well once established, making them a good choice if you are conscious of how much water you use in your landscape. Often people let them go to seed in late summer to leave food for birds and winter interest. As seen in this photo from our backyard above, they clump, making big sprays of bright yellow flowers. These plants are diverse, too; they can be found in a range of colors – yellow, orange, red, bronze, and mahogany, and varieties range from 1 to 9 feet in size.

Their virtues include being deer resistant, providing nectar and food for birds, and attracting butterflies. Wildflower.org also says that American Indians used them medicinally, as an external wash for sores, snakebites, and swelling and as a root tea for worms and colds.

Adding them to your garden is easy. They can be direct seeded once daytime temperatures are reliably around 60 degrees, started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost, or purchased and transplanted. If you start seeds indoors, they do best kept in a cool place (even your refrigerator) for 4 weeks after seeding. For more on this, the Spruce has a nice article. Keep them moist during the first season as their roots establish.

A final note about natives: many plants we think of as weeds are actually not native to the US — they come from Europe or Asia. Examples include the Dandelion, the Oxeye daisy, Bull thistle, and Queen Anne’s Lace. Rudbeckia are truly native to the United States and contribute as natives to our ecosystem, making them an environmentally conscientious choice for gardeners.

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