The Wonderful World
of Black Eyed Susans
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont
Black-eyed daisies (Rudbeckia) also may be called Black-eyed Susans or
coneflowers, but shouldn’t be confused with another perennial coneflower
(Echinacea). Other common names are gloriosa daisy and rudbeckia. This
native to the U.S. is popular as a wildflower and in gardens for its colorful
flowers in yellows, golds, and oranges. It has been named flower of the year
for 2008 by the National Garden Bureau.
Rudbeckias are easy, low maintenance flowers. They prefer full sun for best
blooming, but will tolerate light shade. Other pluses are that they tolerate
some drought once established, and are deer resistant. They do need well-
drained soil of minimal fertility, as too much fertilizer can make plants flop.
These flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies, the seeds to birds.
Rudbeckias are a diverse group of flowers, including annuals to perennials,
and from one foot to nine feet high. The most popular perennial selection, and
one of the most popular perennials in general, is the cultivar ‘Goldsturm’
meaning “gold storm” (R. fulgida var. sullivantii). Its gold flowers in mid
summer until fall are on plants two to three feet high.
One of the oldest grown cultivars is of the perennial cutleaf coneflower (R.
laciniata) with its deeply divided leaves. ‘Golden Glow’ has double yellow
flowers on plants to nine feet tall. In some areas it may be known as the
“outhouse plant” as it used to be planted around these as a visual screen. It
can spread to six feet across, so give it plenty of room. Another good cutleaf
coneflower, with large single yellow flowers, is ‘Herbstsonne’ meaning
A recent favorite of mine is the three-lobed coneflower (R. triloba) with its
dainty one to two inch wide gold flowers on plants two to five feet tall.
Leaves are divided into three oval parts, giving rise to the species name. This
prairie plant self seeds, and can be grown as an annual, biennial, or short-lived
perennial. It fills in among other plants, or is good in masses.
The most seen rudbeckias in gardens are the gloriosa daisies (R. hirta). These
are grown as annuals in the North, as biennials or perennials in the South. In
mild winters in the North plants may be perennial. Some are short, only about
a foot high, including ‘Becky’, ‘Toto’, and the double ‘Maya.’ Three of my
favorites are about three feet high, and are All-America Selections winners
‘Indian Summer’ was an AAS winner in 1995, having golden yellow flowers
five inches or more across. ‘Cherokee Sunset’ was an AAS winner in 2002,
having semi-double to double flowers two to four inches across in various
shades of yellow, orange, and bronze. ‘Prairie Sun’ was an AAS winner in
2003, having flowers five inches across. They are golden yellow with lighter
primrose yellow petal tips. Similar to ‘Prairie Sun’, only with smaller yellow
flowers green towards the centers, are ‘Irish Eyes’ and ‘Green Eyes.’
The short gloriosa daisies are great in fronts of beds and along walks. The
taller selections are showy in backs of beds. Both work well in large container
plantings. Try the perennial rudbeckias in meadow or prairie-style gardens.
They combine well with ornamental grasses, and the blues of perennials such
as Russian sage, catmint, blue lobelia and fall asters.