Brown-Eyed Susan is a short-lived perennial native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Rudbeckia triloba, it grows 3-5′ tall in full sun and well draining soil. Blooming dozens of yellow daisy-like flowers for two months, it attracts over 100 species of bees and butterflies who seek nectar and pollen.
Of all the members of the Rudbeckia genus, there is a strong argument to claim that Brown Eyed Susan is the showiest. I’ve grown specimens that reached 8′ tall with hundreds of flowers blooming at once. Although in formal flowerbeds this showiness comes with a cost.
In my personal experience, Brown Eyed Susan is one of the most prolific self-seeding plants I’ve ever grown in a mulched flower bed (first grown 2014). Because of this, I now only grow it in wilder areas such as our backyard microprairie. In a mulched flower bed or native plant garden, it just makes too much work dealing with all the self-seeding.
Nonetheless, in wild areas and roadsides this is a very attractive plant when in bloom. And in partial sun or along the edge of the woods the plant only gets 2-3′ tall and blends well with surrounding vegetation.
This will be an in-depth profile on this flower. Click on the buttons below to jump to various sections.
The primary native range is the central and eastern United States as well as Southern Manitoba and Ontario.
|Brown-Eyed Susan, Three-lobed Coneflower
|Native Range, USDA Zone
|Central United States, USDA hardiness zones 4-8
|Summer to Fall
|Bloom Duration, Color
|8-12 weeks, yellow
|2-5′ tall depending on sun
|Spacing / Spread
|Full sun to part sun
|Sandy loam to clay loam
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts
|Numerous pollinators supported
Pros and Cons
Given space, Brown Eyed Susan can put on one heck of a dazzling display of yellow in late Summer. Isolated specimens, or a row of them along the road can just make for a sea of bright yellow and gold flowers.
Long Bloom time
The amount of blooms that this flower can put out is matched by it’s durations. I’ve had this flower bloom for upwards of 3 months (8 weeks were a super bloom).
If you like cut flowers, this can supply you with a huge supply of showy blooms for a long period. Although the individual blooms are only 1-2″ diameter, you can compensate for that by the quantity. I have used them as ‘filler’ around larger, more showy blooms of Echinacea.
Brown-eyed Susan is very valuable to pollinators in that it supports over 100 species. It is helped in this regard as it produces both pollen and nectar. But the leaves also provide forage to deer and rabbits. And birds will eat the seed from the ground.
The single biggest drawback to this flower, which really only applies if it is in a formal, mulched flower bed is that it will self-seed. And to manage it, I’m not talking about pulling 10’s of flowers in the Spring, but hundreds. And hundreds. And hundreds.
The only other drawback is that this is a short-lived perennial, or even a biennial like it’s cousin, Rudbeckia hirta. So, this is where self-seeding can be a good thing in that as old plants die, you should have new ones to take it’s place. I know I have been able to keep a low-level population growing along the forest edge in my backyard (4-5 years now) due to the self-seeding.
Identification and Characteristics
The stalk will have white hairs on it and is green to red in color. In the open, or in available space, it will branch frequently.
Leaves are arranged alternately on the stalk, lanceolate in shape and roughly 4″ long by half as wide with large serrated margins. Often the leaves are three-lobed, which greatly aids in identification before blooming.
Flowerheads occur at the ends of each stem. Each flowerhead is daisy-like, 1-2″ diameter with 6-10 yellow petals (ray floret) surrounding a red-black cluster of disk flowers. Both pollen and nectar are produced by the flowerheads, but no detectable scent.
Blooming lasts for up to 8-12 weeks in Summer. And it will start/stop depending on conditions. For example, one that receives more sun may begin blooming in July, while another identical plant that receives more shade may not begin blooming until August.
How to save seed
About four weeks after the flowers have bloomed, seed heads will form. Once they appear dry, cut them off with scissors or pruning shears. Place the seed heads into a paper bag or container and let it dry in a dark place for a week. Then, shake the seed heads in a container with lid to release the seed. I have a detailed process and video here showing every step of the process.
The root system of Brown Eyed Susan is fibrous.
For sunlight, it will prefer full sun but can also grow fine in part-sun, although it will not be as showy. It also prefers medium to moist soil conditions. For soil texture is isn’t too picky as long as it can drain well.
I’ve had this plant grow to very large sizes in poor, inorganic sandy-loam with no fertilization. It tends to do fine in poor soils as long as it can receive sun and moisture. In overly fertile soils, it may lean or flop.
The only real maintenance you have to contend with in regards to Brown Eyed Susan is self-seeding in formal mulched flower beds. For that reason alone I confide it to my ‘wild’ areas.
If you suspect that your plant is getting too tall and may flop over, you can always perform the Chelsea Chop in June. This will delay the flowering a bit, but make it less likely to flop.
This plant should not need to be fertilized, ever. It can grow much larger than what everyone says! The first time I grew this plant I fertilized it (I was a newbie), and the top of this plant was 8′ tall, no exaggeration (pictured below).
How To Grow Brown Eyed Susan From Seed
Seeds from Brown-Eyed Susan need to experience a 30 day cold-moist stratification period to break dormancy. You can achieve this by cold-stratifying in the refrigerator or by Winter Sowing the seed. Personally, I prefer Winter Sowing as it allows the seed to germinate earlier, yielding larger plants sooner.
- But, to germinate the seed, simply fill a suitable container with moist-potting soil, leaving a 1/2″ (12 mm) gap at the top.
- Sprinkle 5-10 Brown-Eyed Susan seeds on top and press them in with your thumb. These are tiny seeds, and they shouldn’t really be buried at all.
- Place your container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.
- Germination should occur once spring temperatures begin to warm up, or within a couple weeks if planting stratified seed.
You can direct sow Brown Eyed Susan seed in fall, winter, or even very early spring if nighttime temperatures are still getting into the 40’s. On disturbed soil, scatter or broadcast seed. Then, simply walk over it to ensure it makes good contact with the soil. Note that some seed will likely be lost to birds and rodents.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases
Brown-Eyed Susan attracts a lot of pollinators. And I mean a lot. Charles Robertson in his 1929 survey documented over 120 species of long & short-tongue bees, wasp, pollinating flies, and moth.
Now, in my experience, although it does attract lots of species, they are often more inconspicuous (can you see the bee in the above photo?). Many of the bees and flies are tiny enough that only someone keenly observing would find them. Nonetheless, it serves many pollinators, even if we don’t always notice.
Deer and Rabbits
Like other members of the Rudbeckia genus, deer and rabbits will browse the foliage. Young plants particularly can be at risk of being completely eaten. So, if you’re trying to establish a new population, I recommend protecting them with Liquid Fence (I use it).
Birds will eat the seeds from this plant, along with other members of the Rudbeckia genus. Although most of the action I see is from small songbirds feeding on the ground (dark eyed juncos, etc).
Where you can buy Brown Eyed Susan
Brown Eyed Susan is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a typical ‘garden friendly’ plant. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.
Where to buy seeds
We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)
Brown Eyed Susan is best used in meadows, micro-prairies, border gardens, and along the forest edge. It can also be a good choice for roadside ditches that don’t completely dry out.
I have used these in formal flower beds in the past, and even given some away as gifts to friends who also used them in mulched, manicured gardens. The amount of self-seeding was amazing. I think my friend cursed my name for several years until the seed bank was exhausted.
There are a large number of possible companion plants for Brown-Eyed Susan. I’m going to list off particular specimens I’ve found to grow well them them that look good too.
- American Bellflower
- Black-Eyed Susan
- Blue Lobelia
- Blunt Mountain Mint
- Liatris spicata
- New England Aster
- Orange Coneflower
- Purple Prairie Clover
- Short’s Aster
- Swamp Milkweed
- White Turtlehead
Brown Eyed Susan is arguably the prettiest of the Rudbeckia genus, but this beauty can come at a cost if you wish to have it in a formal flower bed. But it is right at home in wild areas, ditches, and along the forest edge. An important species for pollinators, it can make a great addition to any garden under the right circumstances, and sometimes can make a truly jaw-dropping display.
 – Rudbeckia triloba, USDA NRCS. Accessed 03FEB2024
 – Aniśko, Tomasz, When perennials bloom : an almanac for planning and planting, Portland : Timber Press, 2008, pp515
 – Armitage, A. M., The color encyclopedia of garden plants : annuals, perennials, Portland, Oregon : Timber Press, 2009, pp374
 – Robertson, Charles. “Flowers and insects; lists of visitors of four hundred and fifty-three flowers.” (1928).
 – Sirbu, Culita, and Adrian Oprea. “Contribution to the Knowledge of the Alien Flora from Romania: Rudbeckia triloba L. and Senecio inaequidens DC.” Notulae Botanicae Horti Agrobotanici Cluj-Napoca 38.1 (2010): 33-36.
 – Maslo, Semir, and Šemso Šarić. “Three-lobed Coneflower Rudbeckia triloba L.(Compositae): new alien species in the flora of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Glasnik Hrvatskog botaničkog društva 6.1 (2018): 8-12.
 – Wenninger, Alexandria, et al. “Contrasting foraging patterns: testing resource-concentration and dilution effects with pollinators and seed predators.” Insects 7.2 (2016): 23.
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