Maximilian’s Sunflower

Helianthus maximiliani

Here’s a tall and cheerful late-summer perennial that’s not only beautiful, but also a great source of food for wildlife. We generally expect sunflowers to be tall, and this one is no exception.  It can grow 3 to 10 feet in height (making it particularly hard to photograph!)

Maximilian's Sunflower
Maximilian’s Sunflower

The leaves and stem of Max’s Sunflower are distinctive. The leaves are grayish green in color, and very rough to the touch. They are long and narrow, mostly alternate (some lower leaves may be opposite), with smooth to slightly wavy margins. The petioles are very short.  Many of the narrow leaves will appear folded along the central midrib. The  stems of Maximilian’s Sunflower are greenish to red, and are covered with fine white hairs, especially at the top of the plant where the flowers occur.

The flowers grow from a branched stalk at the top of the plant. Max’s Sunflower has 2-4 inch flower heads with yellow ray flowers and yellow disk flowers.  Behind the flower head you will find a whorl of bracts that are long, pointed and hairy.  Look for these features in the photos above and below.

The following photographs were taken at Brian Murphy’s farm in Craig County, where this native wildflower, along with many others, was planted to attract birds (especially quail). The birds will eat the sunflower seeds through the fall and winter.

Helianthus grosseserratus

A VERY similar species of sunflower is called Sawtooth Sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus). Note that in this species the stem is hairless and the leaves have longer stalks (or petioles).

The long, lance-shaped leaves of Sawtooth Sundflower can be smooth to sharply serrated (sawtoothed). They are sandpapery in texture and oppositely attached at the bottom and alternate above. They fold at the mid vein. Like the previous sunflower species, there are many bracts behind the flower head that conspicuously long and pointed. The flower heads can be 2 to 4 inches in diameter, with yellow ray flowers and disk flowers.

I found a nice colony of Sawtooth Sunflower up at Grayson Highlands State Park two weeks ago. See the photos below.

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