You might mistake it for a sunflower thanks to its golden color and similar shape to the bloom. Yet the False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) is a wildflower that is only distantly related to the real sunflower. If you’re looking for a plant that thrives in prairie environments where many other flowers fail to bloom, you may have found the perfect match in the cheerful symbolism of this plant. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about False Sunflowers meaning and symbolism, their cultural significance, suitable gifting occasions, and essential tips to grow your own at home.
- False Sunflowers – The Essentials:
- What are False Sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides)?
- Symbolism and Meaning in the Language of Flowers
- Suitable Gifting Occasions
- Uses and Benefits of False Sunflowers
- How to Grow False Sunflowers
- Caring for False Sunflowers
- Best Companion Plants for False Sunflowers
- Creative Uses for False Sunflowers
- False Sunflower Crafts
- False Sunflowers FAQs:
False Sunflowers – The Essentials:
|Scientific Name:||Heliopsis helianthoides|
|Native Range:||North America|
|Characteristics:||Perennial plant, bearing daisy-like flowers with yellow rays and yellow to brownish-yellow disc florets|
|Mature Height:||3 to 6 feet|
|Growing Zones:||USDA zones 3 to 9|
|Watering:||Moderate – can tolerate some drought|
|Soil:||Prefers well-drained, loamy soils. Can tolerate poor soils|
|Fertilizing:||Use a balanced, slow-release wildflower fertilizer at the start of the growing season|
|Pests:||Susceptible to leaf spot and powdery mildew. Pests include aphids and leaf miners|
|Pruning:||Deadhead spent flowers to encourage reblooming. Cut back to the ground in late fall or early spring|
|Symbolism:||Represents eternal life or the sun|
What are False Sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides)?
The False Sunflower belongs to the Heliopsis genus as part of the large Asteraceae family. Many other plants known as ox-eyes belong to the genus. Most of the genus members feature a buttery or golden yellow color to the petals.
The plants may vary in height, but most have alternating leaves on a tall stem topped by one or a cluster of flowers. Individual flowers have a compound center and daisy-style petals.
Heliopsis helianthoides, in particular, grows between three and four feet tall with stiff stems. Most varieties have slightly hairy leaves but may be smooth instead.
The False Sunflower is native to North America, more specifically, the Eastern and Central regions, but other members of the genus also grow through South America.
It is often grown in the prairies of the Midwest but may spread aggressively in those areas. Most ox-eyes and False Sunflower varieties have little to no scent.
Many members of the Heliopsis genus are simply grown from wild stock, but the False Sunflower has been selectively bred and has a few named varieties like:
- Waterperry Gold
- Light of Loddon
- Summer Sun
- Prairie Sunset.
The name Heliopsis is derived from the combination of the word for sun, Helios, and the word for appearance, or Opsis. That’s why it has the literal name of sunflower despite not being related to other flowers sharing that name.
Aside from being called the False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides is also known as the rough ox-eye or common ox-eye. This is due to the eye-like arrangement of the flower’s center and petals. Even the individual clusters that make up the center of the flower have an eye-like appearance.
Symbolism and Meaning in the Language of Flowers
False Sunflowers symbolize joy, warmth, and happiness as bright yellow flowers that tilt toward gold in color. The complexity of the flower’s center also conveys a sense of wonder and awe.
The scientific name for the flower links it to the Greek god Helios. Helios was the personification of the Sun itself and was believed to travel across the sky each day in a chariot that shone down light on Earth. This means that the False Sunflower can symbolize the need to keep moving and seek new inspiration as well.
Since the plant is native to North America, it wasn’t directly used in the Victorian Flower Language or many older forms of flower symbolism. It may have been used for symbolic purposes of the Native Americans of the Eastern and Central regions.
Suitable Gifting Occasions
Consider gifting a bouquet featuring these sunny flowers if you’re trying to send an uplifting message of hope to someone. The warm yellow-to-gold color conveys joy and good health. It’s a perfect addition to a get-well-soon bouquet or a gift for someone who is feeling down.
Uses and Benefits of False Sunflowers
The flowers themselves are edible with a mild taste. They can be candied for use on desserts or added to a salad without further preparation.
However, you must be sure you’ve properly identified your Heliopsis helianthoides plants first. Many look-alike Aster plants are irritating or even toxic to eat. Growing the plants from seed is a good way to ensure you get the correct species.
Aside from being a good garnish, the False Sunflower is attractive to many insects and birds. Bees, butterflies, and more will visit for the nectar and pollen. Birds enjoy eating the seeds of the dried pods and catching the insects attracted to the flowers. They play a good role in any pollinator garden in various climates.
Traditionally, the leaves of this plant were used to make tea for treating fever and chest congestion. There isn’t enough testing to determine if this is safe in the modern era, so it’s best avoided.
For more, see our in-depth guide to popular flowers that are toxic to cats, dogs, and other pets.
How to Grow False Sunflowers
The False Sunflower is well-adapted to various conditions and thrives in USDA zones 3 through 9. It is a perennial that will return from the roots and any dropped seeds year after year.
You simply need to set aside a patch of well-draining yet moist soil that isn’t too rich or poor. As long as it doesn’t get too wet and it has full sun, the False Sunflower will thrive for years with little attention.
Water it weekly during the first summer of establishment, and then it should have the drought tolerance to withstand even the driest conditions. Avoid heavy clay soils and damp areas.
Fertilize only once a year with a wildflower feed mix applied in the spring before flowering begins. This plant is adapted to forest meadows and open prairie areas. Don’t let it get shaded out by taller plants or shrubs. Keep it in the front of any mixed bed plantings or edge uses.
Caring for False Sunflowers
Deadheading throughout the summer season will keep the False Sunflower blooming for as long as possible. These wildflowers are well-adapted and should suffer from relatively few pests and diseases when planted in their native range.
In other areas, they may experience whiteflies, thrips, and aphids infesting them in early summer. Try a broad-spectrum organic pesticide spray to control pests when they appear. If planted in suitable climate zones, these plants shouldn’t need any extra care to survive the winter.
Best Companion Plants for False Sunflowers
1. Ironweed – The deep purple color of these blooms contrasts sharply against the gold of the False Sunflower. They’re also easy to grow and require similar growing conditions. The fact that they feed bees and butterflies contributes to their fit with the False Sunflower.
2. Yarrow – These two plants often grow close together in the prairie remnants scattered across the Central plains. Decorative Yarrow varieties offer a lot of color options to play with.
3. Wild Bergamot – Another excellent plant for attracting bees, Wild Bergamot is a natural fit to pair with False Sunflower. Try the red varieties for a bold color contrast or the sweet-smelling lavender type for easy growth.
Creative Uses for False Sunflowers
In the garden, line borders and flower bed arrangements with this yellow wildflower for a burst of color. It has the perfect height to either grow in front of taller plants or behind shorter ones. Make sure to include them in any design intended for attracting pollinators or helping wildlife.
False Sunflowers are easily added to flower arrangements that feature true Sunflowers, lilies, daisies, and tulips. They help send a playful and joyful message. If you carefully press and dry the flowers, they can be displayed in framed art pieces for many years.
False Sunflower Crafts
To start making crafts with your False Sunflowers, try picking a few flowers just as they open. Arrange the petals so they are evenly spread while the blooms are flattened out. Place them between two sheets of watercolor paper or paper towels. Sandwich the paper in a heavy book or between two heavy books for about one month. Check to see if they’re completely dry yet. If not, continue drying for up to six more months because using them to accent bookmarks and gift cards.
False Sunflowers FAQs:
How long do False Sunflowers bloom for?
Blooming begins in June and runs for two to three months in most areas.
What is the ideal climate for growing False Sunflowers?
These plants can handle USDA zones 3 through 9, although they prefer summer warmth.
Can False Sunflowers grow in containers or indoors?
As a meadow wildflower, the False Sunflower tends to struggle in containers and won’t thrive indoors.
How often should I water my False Sunflowers?
Water weekly during the first summer of growth. After that only water if the plants wilt during long-term drought.
When is the best time of year to plant False Sunflowers?
Seeds and roots should be planted in the spring. Plants grown in pots can be transplanted in the fall but may dry up and die back immediately. They should return next spring.
How can I protect my False Sunflowers from pests and diseases?
Don’t apply too much mulch or fertilize too often. Excessive fertilization causes the plants to get weak and attract more pests. Mulch can help in very dry conditions, but avoid it if you get rain regularly since it can encourage root rot.
How can I extend my False Sunflowers’ lifespan after being cut?
Change the water daily and keep the cut flowers out of direct sunlight. The flowers should last up to one week with good care.
This flower symbolizes joy and warmth to all who see it. Whether you grow it in your garden or just add it to a flower arrangement, False Sunflower can brighten up your day.
Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.