Along the Deerfield Trail in Blacksburg, near its intersection with Tom’s Creek, you’ll find Brown-eyed Susans growing along the edge of the woods. Damp places like this are typical habitat for this species. The plants are 3-5 feet in height, and bushy due to frequent branching. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the stems and leaves are hairy.
Brown-eyed Susan leaves grow in an alternate fashion, and come in two shapes. The lower leaves often have three lobes (hence the species name R. triloba) and they can grow quite large (3-4 inches). Sometimes these leaves are not present at all, or they are withered, so don’t count on them for accurate identification. The upper leaves are generally more narrow, or lanceolate. All the leaves are rough-to-the-touch, slightly toothed, and lack petioles (sessile). The stems are often red.
Each flowerhead consists of 6-12 yellow to orange ray flowers around a brownish cone of disk flowers. At a distance, Brown-eyed Susans are easy to confuse with Black-Eyed Susans, but this species is smaller in diameter and has fewer ray petals.
Another name for this plant is thinleaf coneflower. Bloomtime is mid-to-late summer.
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My familiarity with the Brown-eyed Susans is limited to pictures like yours and in garden magazines. My mother used to grow Blacked-eyed Susans, as did most home gardeners in the South did and still do. I used here in Central Washington state, but not since I began to concentrate on perennials about 20 years ago (except for petunias and potted geraniums).
Now, what’s the difference between Brown-eyes and Black-eyes? I think that’ll be a good Google research project for me.