Sunflowers or False Sunflowers - What's the Difference?


Sunflowers and humanity have a long history. These big, bold flowers are a bright and cheerful representation of sun and warmth and were once used for medicinal purposes by North American Indian tribes as long ago as 3000 B.C.

One of the most recognizable flowers, sunflowers are depicted in many works of art by famous painters like Vincent Van Gogh, Diego Rivera, Paul Gaugin and Gustav Klimt. These beautiful flowers are known to be symbols of hope. It is said that people who plant sunflowers are searching for spiritual guidance.

It is also believed that if you dream of sunflowers, the dreams foretell abundance and prosperity.

However, there has recently been some buzz about false sunflowers, and the buzz isn’t just from the bees and other insects and birds that love these beautiful blooms. Gardeners are learning that these flowers are just as bold and cheerful as regular sunflowers but even easier to grow!

When first hearing of false sunflowers, it is natural to wonder what that means. Is a false sunflower an identity thief wearing a sunflower disguise and trying to cash a check it doesn’t deserve? Is the false sunflower like the Jan Brady of the family living in the shadow of the beautiful and beloved sunflower?

First off, sunflowers and false sunflowers don’t want shadows or even much shade. However, false sunflowers are like the smaller, sturdier version of sunflowers. False sunflowers are also known as Oxeye daisy, Oxeye, Oxeye sunflower, Heliopsis sunflower, Sunflower Heliopsis and Heliopsis helianthoides.

Heliopsis helianthoides, alluding to the Greek sun god Helios, means sunflower-like, and this name is appropriate. Although similar in appearance, the false sunflower is not a member of the same family as sunflowers, so the Marsha/Jan Brady Bunch comparison isn’t quite accurate.

Another difference is that both the ray and disks florets of the false sunflower heads can produce seeds whereas only the disks florets of regular sunflowers can make seeds.

We will explain more of the differences, and you will see false sunflowers don’t deserve a name with any negative sound to it. After hearing about these lovelies, you may even find yourself seeking out some to add to your garden!

Tall or Small

Sunflowers are known for growing tall. They can grow between five and 12 feet in as little as six months. Some outliers can grow over 16 feet, and some dwarf varieties are only about one foot tall. These slender, supermodels of the plant world sometimes suffer from poor posture from holding up those big, glorious heads on such thin stalks.

The false sunflower is more compact than most of its sunflower counterparts. Most varieties of false sunflowers grow between two and six feet tall. They are less likely to flop over in defeat than regular sunflowers and more likely to be able to stand upright without support. Their flower heads are smaller but plentiful. They are a colorful addition to a garden but can also be grown in a container.

Dirt Won’t Hurt

False sunflowers grow best in well-drained soil. They can handle poor conditions like clay, sandy or rocky soil. Growing in these kinds of soil can stunt the growth enough to ensure these shorties (compared to regular sunflowers) don’t droop.

The lack of soil requirements is a nice difference compared to regular sunflowers, as they demand nutrient-rich soil with organic matter or composted manure.

Has the Clout to Withstand Drought

False sunflowers are tolerant of heat and drought. When it comes to watering, better to dry it out than drown it. Make sure they don’t become water-logged.

These flowers are also tolerant of urban pollution and mildew. They are susceptible to aphids, but if their minor needs are met, this is less likely to occur.

Will Bloom but Won’t Doom

False sunflowers grow best in full sun or partial shade. Full sun will help the plant have more flowers and bring out more intense colors in the foliage.

False sunflowers are like a snack machine for local wildlife. The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract many beneficial insects like honeybees and bumblebees, beetles and butterflies. Songbirds and gamebirds munch on the seeds, and although deer might nibble on the foliage, it is unlikely to do much harm.

Wait until early spring to cut the stems back, so overwintering birds can still enjoy the seed buffet.

The most interesting difference between the sunflower and the false sunflower has little to do with appearance. The sunflower is allelopathic, which means it gives off toxins from all parts (roots, stems, leaves and flowers) that can prevent the growth of other plants or even lead to their demise.

Unless you are looking to suppress the growth of another plant or weed, you might want to go with the safer option of the false sunflower.

This flower is native to many areas in the United States, so it doesn’t typically require much care. These beautiful flowers are also great when cut and placed in a vase to decorate the home.

However, if you don’t have space or the desire to garden, you don’t have to go without bright blooms to decorate your home this summer. Our florists at Flower Island serving Chula Vista, CA, always have fresh, cheerful. summer arrangements available. Let us know what your favorite summer flowers are, and we will design a bouquet or an arrangement to help you celebrate summer!

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