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What’s Blooming in Paradise?: Plant Subject: Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora)

By Staff | Oct 28, 2010

First impression

Electric orange daisy-like flowers with sizzling yellow sunflower centers. I notice this sunflower has many flowers on its mutli-stems. Hairylike leaves on fuzzy stems the color of soft green. Seed pods are soft brown, prickly and droop downwards when ready to disperse their treasures. No fragrance, but I see butterflies and pollinators all around. You can see this fiery tropical sunflower blooming at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Mexican Sunflower is a must-have plant for any butterfly garden. Butterflies love-love-love any nectar from its plant family of Asteraceae. This huge family includes aster, daisy and sunflowers, all of which mean good sweet nectar. You will be thrilled to notice pollinators hovering like the holding pattern at the airport to sip from its sweet nectar. It height is about 3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. The plants habit is multi stemmed with a single sunflower (2-3 inches wide) on every stem. The soft green leaves are fuzzy and rough. The flowers are a 1970s type orange color and glow with sizzle. The inside centers are quite a contrast as bright yellow. Their look is a dichotomy with a daisy shaped flower and bright tropical colors. Their vibrancy makes them great for cut flower arrangements. Unfortunately, our gorgeous sunflowers are seasonal, but last for many months in the spring and fall.

Our star can also reseed itself for the next season; as they mature they will turn paper bag brown, turn downward then split open to release oodles of seeds. The seeds are armed with prickly cases, so wear gloves when trying to collect them. They are abundant! I get grocery bags full; I collect the drooping pods, store them in paper bags and toss the entire pod in the garden area come spring and fall. I never worry about opening them or covering them with soil; these seeds are survivors and grow. I can’t emphasize enough how much butterflies love this flower’s nectar. A grouping of Tithonia may attract a half dozen or more butterfly and skipper species with many individuals on every single flower! It will grow on a wide variety of soils and sand. I really like the Torch and Fiesta Del Sol varieties. In fact I began my love of Tithonia with one packet of seeds I bought in a nursery. You will appreciate this plant’s easy nature and lack of pests/disease. It’s made for our tropical climate with its drought tolerance and need for full sun. It is a non-native species, and is one of many species of Tithonia native to Mexico and Central America. Do you have a hard time trying to grow anything in a sunny spot — throw out some Tithonia seeds and see what happens!

Pros

Does well in sandy soil, likes full sun, easy to maintain/prune, it’s a survivor easily propagated by seeds, pollinator attractor, salt tolerant, neighbors will wonder why you have all the butterflies, great for a cottage garden look, gives garden dimension with orange color, drought tolerant, great for cut flower, easy care, butterflies will wait in line to sip from.

Cons

Seasonal plant, fast grower, pollinator attractor , non-native, seed pods can be plentiful and prickly, cold sensitive, seed pods and flower at the same time.

Conclusion

What a great addition to any garden, this flower has it all: a daisy-like sunflower sizzling in tropical orange — follow the samba line of butterflies to our garden in paradise. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!

Attention butterfly gardeners!

Don’t miss the 10th Annual Southwest Florida Butterfly Conference on Saturday, Nov 6.

For more information, call the Lee County Extension Service at 239-533-7504, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon or 1 to 4 p.m. or go to lee.ifas.ufl.edu/Hort/HortClasses/2010_SWF_Butterfly_Conference.pdf.