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Native Sunflowers

Balsamhoriza deltoidea6
Checkerspot butterfly on deltoid balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)

Summer is just around the corner, but some of our native sunflowers are already in bloom! Many plants in the Asteracea (Sunflower family) are commonly referred to as sunflowers, especially those with showy, round, yellow flower heads that look like the sun.

Below we will feature some Klamath-Siskiyou native plants belonging to the sunflower family. Numerous insects, including bees and butterflies, are attracted to plants in the sunflower family and planting native sunflowers will surely benefit native pollinators in your area. Have you stumbled across Calscape while doing botanical research online? A program of the California Native Plant Society, Calscape provides basic horticultural information for California native plants. You can search specific species through the site, or if you search a plant through Calflora (the online flora database for California), you can click on the Calscape link at the bottom of the page and it will take you to the Calscape information for that particular species. I will use examples of Calscape descriptions in this blog post to help familiarize you with this resource if you haven’t used it before. Although Calflora and Calscape are specific to California flora, they provide very useful information for native plants that have ranges extending into Oregon and beyond.
Balsamorhiza deltoidea in the Siskiyou Mountains
Deltoid balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) in the Siskiyou Mountains

Deltoid balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)

Deltoid balsamroot is a spring blooming member of the sunflower family currently blooming in grasslands, rocky areas, among chaparral, and in sunny forested openings throughout the region. Description on Calscape: “Balsamorhiza deltoidea is a species of flowering plant in the sunflower tribe of the plant family Asteraceae known by the common name deltoid balsamroot. It is native to western North America from British Columbia to California, where it grows in many types of generally mountainous habitat. This is a taprooted perennial herb growing erect to a maximum height near 90 centimeters. The stems and leaves are hairy. The large leaves are up to 25 centimeters long and 20 wide, and are roughly triangular in shape, hairy, and often toothed along the edges. The flower cluster bears usually one or sometimes a few large flower heads, each lined with hairy, pointed phyllaries up to 4 centimeters long. The head has a center of yellowish disc florets and a fringe of pointed yellow ray florets each up to 4 or 5 centimeters long. The fruit is an achene 7 to 8 millimeters in length.” Deltoid balsamroot is deer resistant and drought tolerant. It needs good drainage and full sun to thrive. The seeds will need 60-90 days of cold stratification or winterization in order to germinate.
Deltoid balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)
Deltoid balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) with silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons)
Mule’s ears (Wyethia angustifolia)

Narrow leaf mule’s ears (Wyethia angustifolia)

Mule’s ears blooms after balsamroot. Description on Calscape: “Narrow Leaf Mule Ears (Wyethia angustifolia) is a native perennial herb in the Asteraceae (Sunflower) family that grows in central and northern California. It tends to grow in stream banks and springs, at elevations from 0-5,500 feet, from the coast to the Sierras. It is winter dormant and dies back to the ground. It has large flowers, up to 3″ in diameter, that last from spring to summer.” Another common name for narrow leaf mule’s ears is California compassplant. It tolerates a wide variety of soils as long as adequate drainage is provided. It is deer resistant and drought tolerant. The seeds will need 60-90 days of cold stratification or winterization in order to germinate.
Bumblebees getting ready for sleep on mules ears (Wyethia angustifolia)
Black-tailed bumble bees (Bombus melanopygus) on Mule’s ears (Wyethia angustifolia)
Helianthus bolanderi
Bolander’s sunflower (Helianthus bolanderi) growing in a garden.

Bolander’s sunflower (Helianthus bolanderi)

Sunflowers in the Helianthus genus (Greek: Helios, “sun” and anthos, “flower”), are uncommon in the Klamath-Siskiyou, but many native Helianthus species are found throughout eastern Oregon and California. Bolander’s sunflower is found in California and southern Oregon. Description on Calscape: “Helianthus bolanderi is a species of sunflower known by the common names serpentine sunflower and Bolander’s sunflower. It is native to California and Oregon, where it grows mainly in mountainous areas, often in serpentine soils. This wild sunflower is an erect annual reaching heights over a meter. It has a hairy, rough stem with leaves lance- or oval-shaped, usually pointed, sometimes serrated along the edges, and 3 to 15 centimeters long. The flower cluster holds one or more flower heads, and each plant may have many flower clusters growing along the full length of the stem. The flower head has a cup of long, pointed phyllaries holding an array of bright yellow ray florets each one to two centimeters long around a center of yellow to dark purple or reddish disc florets. The achene is 3 to 5 millimeters long.” Growing Bolander’s sunflower is as easy as growing any other sunflower. The seeds do not need pretreatment. Plant in the late spring or early summer. The maximum height of Bolander’s sunflower under irrigated garden conditions can exceed 5 feet or more. Plant in a sunny location.
Eriophyllum lanatum1
Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum)

Oregon sunshine/Common Wooly Sunflower (Eriphyllum lanatum)

Description on Calscape: “The Common Wooly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum), also known as Oregon Sunshine, is a widespread, herbaceous dicot of the sunflower family Asteraceae. It is native to western North America, commonly growing in dry, open places below 10,000 feet, but it also grows on rocky slopes and bluffs. It is most common in California, primarily in the mountains of the northern part of the state where it is widespread. This perennial plant grows from 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 centimeters) in height. Flowers are yellow and composite, looking much like true sunflowers, and sometimes grow to 2 inches wide. Both the ray and disk flowers are yellow, with one flower head on each flowering stalk. The leaves are linear on the upper stems; the lower portions of the stem have slender, pinnately lobed leaves. The species exhibits great variability. There are many recognized varieties, and some are classified as rare.” Oregon sunshine is deer resistant and drought tolerant. It grows in a wide variety of soil types as long as adequate drainage is provided. It naturally grows in dry openings in many different habitat types, especially in foothills and mountainous areas. Seeds will require 30-60 days of cold stratification in order to germinate.
Mylitta crescent (Phyciodes mylitta) mating pair on Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) Photo: Linda Kappen
Mylitta crescent (Phyciodes mylitta) mating pair on Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) Photo: Linda Kappen