Sic Transit Tithonia

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’m in love with Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), with its intense orange flowers that draw butterflies like a magnet.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)

However, we cannot be blind to the flaws of those whom we love. This past week I learned about such a flaw.

2014-08-09 17.55.42 Tithonia

Namely, in rich soil Tithonia will grow to massive proportions. In my driveway border it had reached 7-8′. According to the Missouri Botanic Garden’s website, its normal height is 4-6′.

The Driveway Border before the Great Tithonia Disaster.
Front of the Driveway Border before the Great Tithonia Disaster.


When it gets so big, it cannot stand up to pounding rain. The stems are thick but not flexible. They crack but do not bend if the weight and force of the water is great enough.

After the Great Tithonia Disaster
After the Great Tithonia Disaster. I have to admit there is a much better view of the Joe Pye Weed.

And that is what happened to my Tithonia. Of the four plants I had originally in the Driveway Border, only one now survives. I’ve staked the survivor to a 10′ length of rebar.

The Driveway Border (post-disaster) seen from the front door window. The one remaining Tithonia seems to be OK.
The Driveway Border (post-disaster) seen from the front door window. The one remaining Tithonia seems to be OK.

Fortunately the Driveway Border is so stuffed with plants I think it still looks reasonably full. 

There is also one Tithonia in the Edibles/Cutting Bed, but it stayed a normal size and did not suffer any cracked stems.

Carrying a mortally wounded Tithonia to the alley. It was a brutally humid day, and I am drenched in sweat.
Carrying a mortally wounded Tithonia to the alley. It was a brutally humid day, and I am drenched in sweat.

In any case, in late August the Tithonia is definitely starting to decline – there are fewer blooms and the foliage is showing signs of decay.

I’m not giving up on Tithonia. I will definitely plant it again next year, but if it grows much bigger than 6′, I will stake it. Like so many of our loved ones, there are times when Tithonia needs support.

Have you learned anything about the flaws of any beloved plants this year?


39 Comments on “Sic Transit Tithonia”

  1. They look beautiful in your front border. I think you are being a little unfair, this is a plant from Mexico as its name implies and so has certain requirements. there’s nothing wrong with growing a plant that doesn’t really suit your conditions (we all do it) but you can’t blame the plant for growing taller and therefore being prone to rain and wind damage when the conditions are wetter and richer. I think this plant would be perfect in my garden! So many of the plants I admire in yours would struggle to survive here.

  2. Did you make a bouquet to bring in the house?? Gorgeous orange blossoms. Classic sunflowers seem to have the same stem structure (no flexibility), so I’ve had several vases on the windowsill over the summer due to wild thunder storms. I’d like to try some of these… think I’ll look for some seed, where did you get yours?

  3. The color is so rich I can see why you are smitten with Tithonia. I’ve had a similar experience with Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’–it never survives a strong rain and I always forget to deal with it until after the ensuing disaster.

  4. I love it too. I don’ t know why it doesn’t grow so tall for me. It is lovely but a bit stunted compared to yours. I never thought of staking it. I wonder if it doesn’t t get enough sun here.
    How disheartening to have it damaged like that though. Do you save your own seed?

  5. I’m still determined to try them next year! There’s a dwarf strain, but you might as well grow marigold then… I love the height, and risk is just part of gardening. Luckily we won’t lose the farm if the tithonia gets rained out!

  6. Hello Jason, sorry to read about the disaster, but I wonder how fertile and rich your soil must be for them to grow so large. Is there a place in the garden where the soil isn’t so well conditioned or where there is perhaps a bit more shade that could be an ideal spot to put them? At first I thought they were dahlias since the flowers look so similar.

  7. You’re a red blooded American male–did you not try duct tape?

    I should have staked the volunteer sunflower in my veggie garden much earlier than I tried to this summer. The very day I carried a stake out to it, I found it had bent over to the ground, with its outer stem cracked and broken. It was not completely severed, so I left it as it was. Happy to say it did not die, but went on to flourish and bloom down there near the ground.

    I hope you at least brought cut some of those unfortunate Tithonia to bring into the house and enjoy in vases!

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