I think we all remember these pretty wildflowers from our childhood. They are so common, yet…
So darn confusing! There are more than 20 species in the genus Rudbeckia, plus many cultivars and varieties. More than one species shares the common name “black-eyed susan”.
Rudbeckia hirta is both a native wildflower and a frequently planted garden cultivar with a tendency to “escape”. Because of that, and also because it is a common component in “wildflower mixes” that are planted for restoration and erosion projects, Black-eyed Susan leaves and stems can vary somewhat from one area to the next. In other words, there may be several “introduced” subspecies or varieties growing in your area.
Black-eyed Susans have bright yellow ray flowers and a chocolate-brown disk (not black). The flower heads can be two to four inches across. Look behind the flower and examine the bracts–they will be be long and pointed (linear). Also note that all parts of the native variety (R. hirta) are hairy to bristly, including the stems, bracts, and leaves.
The leaves are pale green, simple, alternate and lance-shaped. Leaf margins can be smooth or toothed.
You’ll find Black-eyed Susans growing along roadsides, in fields, and along the edges of woods, in both dry and moist places, during summer months (June – September).
A very similar and common species, Rudbeckia fulgida, has broader, darker, more toothed leaves.