True Or False, This Is A Good Plant
Why are some plants called “false”? Like the Midwestern native False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), whose common name implies that it is guilty of impersonating a sunflower (Helianthus sp.). This is unfair on so many levels.
First of all, who is to say that the sunflowers came first, and that the Heliopsis is the imitation? Even its Latin species name (helianthoides) means “like a sunflower”. This is an egregious example of the botanical elitism of our sunflower-centric culture. Doesn’t Heliopsis have value simply for being itself, as opposed to being like another flower that just happens to be better known? Heliopsis means “like the sun”, while Helianthus means “sun flower”. Seems to me that being “like the sun” is just as good as being a “sun flower”.
Some retailers have handled this and similar problems by inventing their own common names, in this case “Early Sunflower” instead of “False Sunflower”. For me, this merely compounds the insult. Yes, Heliopsis flowers as early as June, but that still does not make it some auxiliary form of sunflower.
But where was I going with this? Oh, right. What I had actually meant to write about was that Heliopsis helanthoides ‘Prairie Sunset’ is a really cool flower, and in my opinion an improvement on the species.
The species is nice, don’t get me wrong. It bears many yellow flowers usually from June through September. My only criticisms are that it can be quite large and rather sprawling, smothering its smaller neighbors. For me it grows to 4′ even after being cut back. The other thing is that it self-sows, as they say, freely. For these reasons I ended up removing Heliopsis from my sidewalk bed.
‘Prairie Sunset’ has a more upright habit, though I also have it growing with taller neighbors less likely to be overwhelmed. In addition, it has attractive purple stems and flowers with red centers. Sometimes the flowers have a reddish ring around the inner part of the “petals” (ray flowers). I have yet to see if ‘Prairie Sunset’ is any less free when it comes to self-sowing.
One other thing I have discovered this year is that Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is an excellent companion plant for ‘Prairie Sunset’, in terms of both colors and habits.
Have you grown ‘Prairie Sunset’, or any other Heliopsis? And don’t you think it is an injustice for it to be called “False” Sunflower?