Simply The Best-October

“And the yellow sunflower by the brook, in autumn beauty stood.”

William Cullen Bryant


One of the bright spots as summer wanes is the appearance of the sunflowers, helianthus.  Not just the annual sunflower, but the perennial native sunflowers found throughout North America.  Helianthus, part of the Aster Family (Asteraceae), is one of my favorite late season flowers.  The bright yellow flowers are so profuse they practically glow in the morning sunlight in my garden.  So it seems only natural that I would want to highlight this plant for the wonderful meme Dozen for DianaElephant’s Eye, and for Gail@Clay and Limestone’s equally wonderful Wildflower Wednesday.

Some species can grow up to 10 feet tall with oodles of yellow flowers dazzling along roadsides here.  Around the US you will find different helianthus in prairies and meadows as well as in swampy areas.  Helianthus grows from creeping rhizomes which can be very aggressive in some species.  And I have them seeding around in my garden with the help of wind and birds.  So when planting helianthus you want to give it  lots of space.

Most helianthus bloom in late summer and fall until the first freeze.  They also tolerate many types of soil especially my dense clay.  They do need staking as the weight of the flowers, especially when wet, will make the tall stalks bend over to the ground.  Many of the species that grow in the east have naturalized here but we do have our natives.



Helianthus tuberosus, Jerusalem artichoke, is one of the oldest helianthus and is native to North America.  It is said to have originated in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. The first report of this plant was in 1605 by Champlain the European explorer.  Champlain reportedly observed Native Americans growing Jerusalem artichoke along with corn and beans in a Cape Cod garden.   Helianthus tuberosus was introduced to Europe in 1612 where it gained popularity. Its range extends from the East Coast to the Midwest, and from southern Canada to Georgia.




The common name, helianthus, is made up of 2 greek words:  helios, “sun”, and anthos, “flower” which is why these plants are commonly referred to as sunflowers including the popular annual sunflower, Helianthus annuus.  There are 52 species of helianthus, all of which are native to North America.

Helianthus divaricatus, a native to my area, is also known as Woodland sunflower and Rough sunflower.

Helianthus maximiliani, naturalized to my area, is called Maximilian sunflower or Max sunflower.  This plant was named for the naturalist Prince Maximilian, who explored the American West in the 1830s.

Bring me the sunflower crazed with the love of light”
~Eugenio Montale




Helianthus is a food source for many animals. The seed heads of helianthus are prized by birds especially finches. It also provides cover for wildlife.  I have found frogs, snakes and voles beneath the dense growth.  Helianthus is a nectar and larval plant for Silvery Checkerspot butterfly and Bordered Patch butterflies.  The nectar of the helianthus flowers attracts native bees.  And Helianthus maximiliani has been used as a food source for livestock.

Helianthus, Jerusalem artichoke is also eaten by livestock and deer particularly the foliage and tubers.  It is an amazing plant as it produces more alcohol than either corn or sugarbeet.

Helianthus is a great plant in the back of the garden for screening and in meadows.  It is a must for a butterfly garden and lovely pond side where I have one planted.



In 1805 Lewis and Clark dined on Jerusalem artichoke tubers as they are highly nutritious.  Today you can find these tubers in produce sections.  Eat them boiled or roasted like potatoes.  Even raw, they are said to be sweet with a nut-like taste. The common name, Jerusalem artichoke, is a said to come from a corruption of the Italian girasole, meaning turning to the sun.

The common sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is the state flower of Kansas.  In the 1800s American settlers planted sunflowers near their home to ward off malaria.

Fibers from sunflower stalks were used for cloth.  They were also dried and smoked like tobacco.  Seed husks were ground and made into a coffee like drink.  A permanent yellow dye was made from the flower petals.

Incas worshipped the sunflower as a symbol of the sun.  Spanish explorers brought seeds back where they were cultivated and hybridized and then reintroduced in America.  North American Indians were found cultivating sunflowers along Lake Huron.  They used ground seeds for flour and oil.  The oil was used for cooking, making soap and mixing paints and for their hair.



Language of Flowers

Sunflowers have many meanings including loyalty, adoration, pride, appreciation and haughtiness which comes from the height of the flower.




“If I were a flower.. I would be a sunflower. To always follow the sun, Turn my back to darkness, Stand proud, tall and straight even with my head full of seeds.” Pam Stewart


Check out other posts in the series, Simply the Best:



August-Clethra alnifolia

July-Liatris spicata

June-Baptisia australis

May-Goat’s beard



February-Trout Lily




Next up on the blog:   The last Monday in October will be a contemplative post about rain.  As November comes it will be time for another Gardens Eye Journal to look back at October in the garden.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month on the 3rd Tuesday, at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. The latest post is up now about the snakes returning to the garden.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2012.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.



58 Replies to “Simply The Best-October”

  1. I don’t suppose I knew any of that Donna! As usual you are a mine of information. On a personal note just seeing your image of the yellow butterfly on the petals was dazzlingly uplifting and not at all like our Autumn which has settled in. Great shot! Where have I been, Jerusalem Artichoke how are ye, I never knew that either. Hugs, C.

    1. You are too funny Catherine. I love to hear when a picture or post uplifts someone. Our autumn is about to take a bit of a nasty turn with the hurricane and cold weather bearing down later Monday into Wed.

  2. I learned something! I have heard of Jerusalem artichoke but had no idea it was a sunflower! I definitely will buy some from our local market, if they have it, and try some!

  3. The Helianthus are no longer blooming along our roadsides, but when they were a few weeks ago, what a beautiful sight! Lots of interesting information here, Donna; I didn’t know either that the Jerusalem artichoke was a type of sunflower.

    1. The freeze did ours in Rose so they are gone now. Love to hear you learned something and that the post was interesting.

  4. Beautiful posting, Donna! I nearly chose helianthus for my October plant for Diana’s meme, but it is new to my garden, and I thought I should give it a little longer before passing judgement. You make a wonderful case for it though. I’m glad I added it to my cottage garden. P. x

    1. How wonderful Pam we think alike. I owe you a visit and will stop by soon. Life has been too busy and I have missed visiting with you!

    1. The photo was such a great opportunity that presented itself. I love going out in early morning to see what might present itself.

  5. The helianthus is quite pretty and I enjoyed all the information you shared about it. I’m heading over to read your post about snakes. I’ve seen garter snakes in the gardens quite often over the summer. Not really too fond of them, but live and let live…

    1. Michelle you won’t be sorry to add this fabulous plant. I always have extras popping up all over so I am never at a loss for them.

  6. I have never had any luck with sunflowers…I try and try…I think I love them too much…and they just don’t survive! lol
    I have enjoyed my visit today…good post!
    I wish I had more time to visit all of my favorites everytime you all post!
    Thank you so much for linking in and sharing your post with my party today! I am sharing this post on my Tootsie Time Facebook page! Have a wonderful day!!!
    ¸.•´¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
    (¸.•´ (¸.•´ .•´ ¸¸.•¨¯`•.

    1. Oh Glenda I am sorry to hear it. I hope you might try again. Anywhere it is sunny like maybe near your wonderful greenhouse is a great place for sunflowers.

  7. I enjoyed seeing your sunflower photos and reading the things you wrote about them. I can’t grow the annual ones because the squirrels take the heads off before the seeds have a chance to ripen.

    I grew Jerusalem artichokes a number of years ago, and they spread too far for me to be able to handle well. I’d love to try them again, but don’t think I quite have enough room.

    1. Sue you might want to put some netting over the sunflowers with a hoop to keep it up off the stems as they grow until they get big enough for the squirrels to leave alone. I used to have to put hot pepper around because they stole the seeds. Perhaps trying a less aggressive helianthus might work as JA are very aggressive.

      1. Thanks, Donna,
        I like your idea of putting netting over the sunflower heads. I have a feeling I would have to check them each day to see if the squirrels figured out how to get them off.

        I grow several kinds of rudbeckias, and some of those remind me of sunflowers. I also am trying my hand at growing a cup plant. I deadheaded it so it wouldn’t end up in our neighbors’ yards. It’s got a sidewalk on one side of it. Hopefully, it won’t spread too far.

  8. thanks Donna, for the fascinating facts I never knew about these flowers. I always wondered why they were called Jerusalem artichoke.

  9. I had no idea jerusalem artichokes were part of the sunflower family. I am growing sunflowers for the first time this year. Very informative post. Beautiful pictures 🙂

    1. Alicia, aren’t sunflowers just gorgeous. It is like Jack and the Beanstalk when they start getting bigger and bigger.

  10. Oh great post Donna… Hmm..did I plant some of the native ones? I can’t remember right now, but if I didn’t, I will…love the yellow and this was a cheery post on a wet night…Michelle

    1. Michelle you have been getting more rain than us recently. Hope you dodge the hurricane…we will probably not. If you want some helianthus let me know. Even if some are not native to NY, they have naturalized. Stay safe!

  11. Donna, I was so sure I commented, but see I didn’t! I am so glad I popped back over to say how lovely your garden blooms are this October. It’s my favorite month despite the fact that it’s followed by winter weather and gray skies in November! Now on to helianthus! Love them. My favorite right now is Helianthus salicifolius~such a sweet willowy plant and the flower color is perfect in the setting sun. I cleared a hill and think it will be a good place to let the helianthus grow and go! gail ps I even tried mashed Jerusalem artichoke this summer~It was okay!

    1. So glad you stopped by again Gail. The helianthus certainly brightened my October for a while. Helianthus salicifolius is a beauty. Never tried the J artichoke but I will have to!

  12. Your first photo sums up exactly what these flowers mean to me at this time of the year. Still thinking about whether I should let them roam free in my own garden though …

    1. I love my clumps of helianthus B-A-G, but I keep them controlled except for any that venture into the meadow. I adore the pictures of yours.

  13. One of my favorite summer flowers. I didn’t know this kind blooms in the Fall, so pretty. I especially like the last shot. Thank you for explaining the Greek origin of the name, sunflower, that was interesting 🙂

  14. thanks Donna for an interesting post about Helianthus, I love when you include the original people of your country when you talk about the American continents’ flora, I don’t always bother much with quotes there are a lot of them on the internet but I do like the Pam Stewart one you include, you have some beautiful sunfowers in your garden from the photos, Frances

    1. I really liked the Pam Stewart quote too. The history of our native flowers has been wonderful to learn and share and I am so happy you have enjoyed it too Frances!

  15. Donna – this was a wonderful post! Lovely blooms, informative and enchanting (love the folklore). Sunflowers are on the ‘Grow List’ for 2013. (The bunnies mowed my last attempt at Sunflowers, so I have to get more clever in the ‘planting strategy’.)

    1. Shyrlene your comment brought a smile to my face. I shared with one commenter that I did use hot pepper once to deter the critters but now I use hoops and netting to let them grow. I hope you have more luck so you can see them flower. Of course they seem to leave the perennial sunflowers alone so that might be a good alternative.

  16. Garden is simply beautiful and that is some pretty interesting info.

    Now to go set up the still out back next to my helianthus patch.

  17. I’m always amazed at the variety of form of flowers in this genus. So often with sunflowers we think of the mammoth varieties that tower over the gardens, but I actually almost prefer some of the polyheaded native varieties more. Our goats wouldn’t agree with me though, as they LOVE the sunflower seeds from the cultivated varieties. Regardless, the sunny dispositions of all the Helianthus brighten any garden.

    1. I couldn’t agree more Clare that sunflowers of any variety brighten the garden…and I am partial to the native perennials too!

    1. Thanks was one of those magically moments that present themselves…I am loving your current trip wishing I had stowed away in your luggage!

  18. Embarrassing to admit, but I have eaten Jerusalem artichokes and never knew that they were Helianthus. Now I understand why are are also sometimes called “sunchokes.”

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