Black Eyed Susan’s Big Sister Provides Color in Shade

 There are those who disdain black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), also known as orange coneflower, simply because it is so common, especially the varieties ‘goldsturm’ and ‘fulgida.’ I do not share their disdain, and consider black-eyed Susan to be an indispensible flower for any sunny Midwestern garden.

R. triloba with Monarda.

However, black-eyed Susan has an older sister, brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), and I think this Susan is not common enough. This is one of the few perennials that will give you late season color in moderate shade, though it also grows fine in full sun. In fact, I’ve seen R. triloba growing contentedly in some pretty unfriendly spots, such as beneath Siberian elms and silver maples (these were volunteers, I don’t think I would recommend placing a nursery plant in such a location). This is an adaptable plant that can live with competition.

R. triloba flowers.

Brown-eyed Susan grows to 4′ or more, around twice the height of R. fulgida. The flowers are smaller but more numerous, with short, bluntly rounded petals (ray flowers). The flowers create an airy, cloud-like effect when combined with R. triloba’s tall, rounded shape. It makes a fine back of the border plant, though you can cut it back around the end of May to keep it more compact.

Brown-eyed Susan will self-sow with abandon, which is a good thing because the plants can be short-lived. However, to limit the number of new volunteers you can cut off the seed heads before they ripen. R. triloba attracts both birds and butterflies.

R. fulgida. Shorter than R. triloba and with longer petals (ray flowers).

16 Comments on “Black Eyed Susan’s Big Sister Provides Color in Shade”

  1. I have had some brown eyed Susans in my vegetable garden for a number of years. I have limited them to the area north of the garage. I’ve been trying to decide if I want to move some to the front yard this spring. I’m thinking they do stay pulled if they seed where one doesn’t want them, so maybe I will. Oh, I could place some seedheads from this year’s plants in the front, too.

  2. I admit–I always get them mixed up. I must have Black-Eyed Susans because they’re shorter plants with large flowers. They are very cheery and they attract butterflys and pollinators. I can’t say I love them (for various reasons), but they do add bright color and interest to the late-summer garden.

  3. They’re rather pretty. I must admit that both Echinacea and Rudbekia are getting quite common because “meadow” and “prairie” planting is in fashion right now. We were given Echinacea seeds and they’re flowering now. We have two small Rudbeckia plants that will flower next year if they don’t get eaten alive. I have them growing among delphiniums. Now that the delphiniums have finished, the Echinacea have grown up and are flowering to continue the interest. I like the way they lazily wave around in the breeze.

  4. I love Rubeckia in general but especially like Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers.” Very tall, although not so much this year with the drought. It also waves in the wind. It was discovered in downstate Illinois in a pocket of prairie off the Route 66 corridor. Ray-like flowers.

  5. One of my friends discoverd R triloba in Santa Fe, where it was nearly 6′ tall — of course that’s with a mile or so less atmosphere to quell the sun. Stunning. As always, I appreciate the lyric intelligence of your posts, and the comment threads they generate!

  6. My own favorite in this family is an even bigger sister (or maybe cousin, since it’s green-eyed rather than black-eyed) — Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ which grows about 7′ tall in my garden and blooms non-stop from late July until frost.

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