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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Beach sunflower offers dramatic ground cover

By Staff | Jan 27, 2016

The beach sunflower is a low ground cover that attracts an array of butterflies. PHOTO BY ANITA FORCE MARSHALL

Plant Subject: Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis)

First impression: Oodles of miniature sunflowers cover this never ending sprawling plant. Super bright, sunny yellow petals encase a dark brown center disk that measure around 2 inches across. This low growing ground cover is dramatic and noticeable covering a large area. I detect no fragrance, but I see butterflies and pollinators all around. You can see this sunshine flower display even on a cloudy day blooming at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Beach sunflower is a fabulous garden addition, because butterflies love-love-love any nectar from its tasty little flowers. I enjoy watching long tailed skippers, white peacocks and gulf fritillary butterflies hovering, basking and sipping on one flower to the next. On sunny days I routinely find them congregating at the beach sunflower all day long!

Our star hails from the Helianthus genus, which is one of many in the Asteraceae family. Filled with flowers, but is one tough plant, which is known for its front line status on coastal areas. It does well in a wide variety of soils and sand, but cannot tolerate wet feet. It will grow up to 1-3 feet tall and really wide (up to 6 feet) with an erect to sprawling type manner. As it grows, its long, slender stems have the ability to root on their own.

This fast grower is multi stemmed with triangle shaped, moss green, rough textured leaves. The cadmium yellow petals remind me of giant sunflowers that have been shrunk, with chocolate brown disk for the center.

I encourage you to include beach sunflower in your garden. Gardeners can be frustrated with its black hole like look at times, its leaves and stems during extreme rainy weather have a tendency to turn black and mushy. This causes parts of the bush to be scraggly, hollow and dark underside, while other parts are looking great. This yucky area can be trimmed away and made to look attractive again. It’s made for our tropical climate with its drought tolerance and need for full sun. Do you have a hard to grow anything sunny spot-try planting our star and see what happens!


Neighbors will wonder where you got all the sunflowers

Great for a cottage garden look

Gives garden a happy look


Flowers all year round

Wildlife love it

Great for coastal areas


Can get leggy

Cold sensitive

Dies back and needs cleaning

Can be finicky and not sprawl where you want it to

May lose objects in your own Black Hole

Conclusion: So hop on your bicycle built for two, and look for our blankets of sunflowers. No need for sunscreen with these rays of sunshine growing in our tropical garden in paradise. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!