By Donna Bollenbach
Florida Native Plant Society
Florida is the Sunshine State, and yellow is the color of sunshine. It is also the color of many of our native flowers. No matter where you live, you can add a splash, or a sea, of yellow to your landscape with these Florida favorites in the aster family.
These asters are easily started from seed and will readily reseed to bloom year after year in your garden. They love basking in full sun, and once established, most will tolerate some drought.
Interestingly, the aster flower is actually made of many small flowers surrounded by petal-like rays. So what appears to be a single flower is actually many flowers. For this reason, asters are a favorite of many bees and butterflies. The following are some yellow asters that will brighten up your Florida landscape.
Many a black-eyed Susan has been sacrificed in solving this age old lover’s rhyme: she loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not. The native black-eyed Susan that is most adaptable to central Florida is Rudbeckia hirta var. floridana. This aster is a short-lived perennial that grows between 1 and 3 feet tall. Rudbeckia does well in soils that are well-drained but not too dry. For the most blooms, it should be planted in full sun or partial shade. The flower head consists of a dark cone of disk flowers and bright yellow rays. It can be used as a border plant or mixed with native grasses in wildlife meadow, but it is not particularly salt tolerant, so for coastal gardens you may want to consider one of the other asters mentioned below.
The west coast dune sunflower
This aster, aptly called “beach sunflower,” is a highly salt-tolerant sunflower found on beaches and coastal dunes. The west coast variety, Helianthus debilis, subsp. vestitus, is endemic to Florida’s west coast, where it plays an important role in dune stabilization and beach beautification. It is can be started by seeds or cuttings, spreads fast in full-sun and sandy soils and is highly drought tolerant once established. The bright-yellow ray flowers with reddish-brown disks bloom nearly year round. It reaches a height of only 2 to 4 feet, making it a good edge plant or as a ground cover in coastal landscapes.
As the common name implies, Helianthus augustifolius, or the swamp sunflower, likes moist soils. It grows naturally in swamps, wet pinelands, coastal salt marshes and moist roadside ditches. It does best in a garden with poorly drained clay soil. It will grow up to 6 feet tall, with profuse yellow ray flowers surrounding a reddish to purplish brown disk, from early October through November. While it likes full sun, it will tolerate some shade but will not be as robust. If you have a moist area in your landscape, this aster will make it shine.
There are 14 species of tickseed, Coreopisis spp., native to Florida. All of these species are considered to be the Florida state wildflower. Of all the Coreopsis spp., Leavenworth’s tickseed, or Coreopsis leavenworthii, is the most common. It can be found throughout Florida in the wild and is a popular choice for native plant landscapes. Leavenworth's tickseed has slender stems and leaves. It is best grown from seeds in moist to wet soil. Once established, it will reseed profusely, forming large colonies of bright-yellow rays flowers with a brownish disk. The blooms may persist throughout the year but are at their peak in the spring and summer. Like all of the asters, these flowers attract lots of bees and butterflies.
Seeds are small and are usually sowed on bare soil. Barely press them in to the soil.
Even drought-tolerant plants must be watered until established. Use plants that are best adapted for the soil in your landscape.
Most of these asters like full sun to light shade. The more sun, the more blossoms. Do not deadhead too early or they will not reseed as profusely.
Learn more about how to grow and where to buy native plants by joining the Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. The Suncoast chapter meets at 7 p.m. every third Wednesday of the month at the Hillsborough County Extension Services Office, 5339 County Road 579. For more information visit SunCoastNPS.org.