Brown-Eyed Susan – Facts, Grow and Care

Brown Eyed Susan is a native yellow wildflower that can be adapted to gardens.  As a member of the Rudbeckia family, it is closely related to common Black Eyed Susans.  However, this species differs in several key ways, and can spread quite rapidly without competition.  Also known as Three-Lobed Coneflower, Brown-Eyed Susan is a short lived but long blooming perennial.  It can be a great choice for an isolated area or wildflower meadow/micro prairie.  Although most references say that Brown-Eyed Susan will grow 2-4′ tall, I’ve personally grown an 8 foot tall (2.5 m) specimen.  Yes, 8′ tall – it was a monster.

Brown-Eyed Susan rudbeckia triloba
An eight-foot tall (2.5 m) Brown-Eyed Susan in a wildflower strip. Other species mixed in are Cardinal Flower, Butterfly Weed, Callirhoe Involucrata, and Plains Coreopsis.

 Brown-Eyed Susan Facts

  • Brown-Eyed Susan’s life cycle is a biennial or short-lived perennial
  • Is hardy from zones 4-8, check your USDA zone here.
  • Typically grows 2-4′ tall, but can reach towering heights with proper conditions and lots of TLC
  • Will be somewhat bushy, but showy in appearance during the growing season
  • Makes a great cut flower that will produce all season long
  • Can look wild towards the end of the season and in the fall, as there will be numerous seed heads
  • Attracts a huge number of diverse insects, bees, and butterflys

Brown-Eyed Susan Scientific Name

The Scientific Name of Brown-Eyed Susan is Rudbeckia Triloba

What is the difference between Brown-Eyed Susan and Black-Eyed Susan?

Brown-Eyed Susan and Black-Eyed Susan are not the same flower!  Brown-Eyed Susan will be somewhat taller than Black-Eyed Susan.  The flower heads of Brown-Eyed Susan (1-2″ diameter // 2.5-5 cm) are also smaller than Black-Eyed Susan (3″ diameter // 7.5 cm).

Additionally, the central stalk of Brown-Eyed Susan will branch multiple times creating a shrub/bushy like appearance.  While Black-Eyed Susans will generally be a single stalk, or have very limited branching.  Furthermore, some leaves of Brown Eyed Susan will be deep-lobed, almost having 3 wide prongs.

Does Brown-Eyed Susan Spread?

In a cleared or disturbed area, Brown-Eyed Susans can become invasive.  Mature Brown-Eyed Susan plants will produce numerous seedlings if grown in a disturbed area without competition, or a mulched flower bed.  And I mean numerous seedlings, like 100-500.  So, Brown-Eyed Susans will self-seed heavily.  Iowa State University conducted some research into habitat restoration of woodlands and found that Brown-Eyed Susans were self-seeding very well after 7 years of observation.

In fact Brown-Eyed Susan has been recorded as becoming invasive in certain parts of Eastern Europe.

Does Brown-Eyed Susan make a good cut flower?

Brown-Eyed Susan will produce numerous blooms for a long time, providing you with cut flowers for 2 months.  Overall Brown-Eyed Susan is one of the best cut-flowers to grow due to the volume/supply of new blooms.

Brown-Eyed Susan Physical Description

In the wild you can find Brown-Eyed Susan growing from 2-4′ tall, and being somewhat bushy.  It is short-lived, only 2-3 years (typically).

Stalk / Stem

Stalks will be red to green with small hairs.  It will branch frequently at the leaves on the central stalk.

Leaves

Leaves of Black Eyed Susan are alternate and about 2″ (5 cm) wide by 4″ (10 cm) long.  The shape is similar to a lance, but somewhat oval shaped, too.  The lower leaves near the base of the stalk will have 3 deep lobes.

Deep lobed leaf of brown eyed susan

Flower

Upper stems will branch and have 1-3 smaller branches that terminate into flower heads.  Each flower is 1-2″ diameter (2.5- 5 cm). This plant will bloom up to 3 months, with other random blooms still occurring long after the primary showy period has ended.

Brown-Eyed Susan in wild
A specimen in the wild

The flower will be yellow, and daisy like, with 5-10 petals (approximately).  The center of the flower will be brown/black cone, and noticeably smaller than Black-Eyed Susan.  This can help identify the plant in the wild when collecting seed.

Root

Roots of Brown Eyed Susan are shallow.  The roots of Brown-Eyed Susan are fibrous.

Growing Conditions

Brown-Eyed Susan will grow best in Full to Partial Sun and well drained soil.  It prefers loamy soil that drains well, and can be adapted to sand-loam or clay-loam, as long as it drains.

Although Brown-Eyed Susan can survive an occasional drought, it is not recommended.  The foliage may drop/dry up during drought, and the growth of the plant will be negatively impacted.

How to care for Brown-Eyed Susan

This plant will not require much care as it is Native.  The primary concern could be ensuring it has space to spread out, away from other plants if in a manicured flower bed.  In a mulched flower bed, you can expect hundreds of volunteer seedlings each year.

Brown Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia Triloba in bloom
Brown Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia Triloba in bloom

Maintenance

Brown-Eyed Susan will generally stay erect, even in high winds.  But it can get very large if fertilized or generous amounts of compost is added.  I’ve personally grown a single plant that grew to 8′ tall.

How to grow Brown-Eyed Susan from seed

This plant is easy to grow from seed.  It can be surface sown, or gently raked into soil, or direct sown.  It does need a 30 day cold stratification period, so it is a good plant to winter-sow.

Brown-Eyed Susan Native Range

The native range of Brown-Eyed Susan is Minnesota to Texas, and then East to the Atlantic Ocean – covering all points in-between.

Garden Uses

Due to its potentially large size and self-seeding nature, this is best grown in an isolated area, or near significant competition.  It also is a great candidate to plant in an established wildflower meadow, open woods, or micro-prairie.

Brown-Eyed Susan Reference Table
Common NameBrown-Eyed Susan, Brown Eyed Susan, Three-Lobed Coneflower
Scientific nameRudbeckia triloba
Bloom TimeJune-October
Bloom Duration2-3 months depending on zone
ColorYellow
Bloom SizeSmall daisy like flowers that are 1-2” diameter (2.5-5 cm)
CharacteristicsMultiple blooms on the end of stalks.  Very showy in the right conditions
Height2-6’ (60 cm-2.0 m), depending on conditions
Spacing/Spread1.5-3 feet (0.5-1 m)
Light RequirementsFull sun to partial shade.
Soil TypesAdaptable, as long as it drains well.  But too much sand or clay is not good as it prefers some organic matter.
MoistureMoist to medium, well-draining soil
MaintenanceIf the plant gets too large, you can cut it back to about ½ its height in early June to control the size.  Also may have to pull unwanted seedlings.
Typical UsePrairie, open woodland, wildflowers, and isolated garden areas.
Fauna AssociationsMany types of bees, wasps, flies visit the flowers.  Smaller and some medium butterflies visit too.  Numerous other insects will feed on this plant.  Deer and rabbits will browse it.
Larval HostNone
Sowing DepthSurface to light dusting of soil
Stratification30 days cold stratification / winter sow
Native RangeUSDA Zones 4-8
Notes

Fauna Associations for Brown-Eyed Susan

Many bees will pollinate Brown-Eyed Susan, although the plant can self-pollinate.  But you will see everything from large bumble-bees to smaller leaf-cutter bees and pollinating flies.  Additionally, medium/small butterflies will visit Brown-Eyed Susan flowers.  There are a large number and variety of insects that will also consumer the foliage and blooms, making it a plant of high ecological value.

Finally, deer and rabbits will eat the foliage.  Young plants should be protected with Liquid Fence, or some other deer/rabbit repellent.

Pests and diseases

As stated above, deer and rabbits can and will eat this plant.  But additionally powdery mildew can affect the appearance.  Although I’ve never seen a Brown-Eyed Susan be truly harmed by powdery mildew, the effect primarily is just aesthetics.

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