If you enjoy sunflowers in the garden then you’ve got to check out False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides. The yellow daisy-like blooms are similar to perennial sunflowers, but unlike those or the annual version, their blooms will last for 2-3 months! For a stunning display of yellow/gold, you can’t go wrong with it.
In this article:
- What is False Sunflower
- What are the benefits of False Sunflower
- How to Grow and Care for False Sunflower
- Identification / Characteristics
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect False Sunflower
- Where to buy False Sunflower
- Uses of False Sunflower
What is False Sunflower
False Sunflower is a herbaceous, short-lived perennial flower native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Heliopsis helianthoides, it will grow 4-5′ tall in full sun and well draining soil. Blooming numerous yellow daisy-like blooms from June to August, it will attract bees, butterflies, and birds.
Typically living for 5 years, it will have some self-seeding in well manicured flower beds. But the long bloom time and profuse number of sunflower-like blooms make it a showstopper in any border garden, wildflower meadow, or micro-prairie. An excellent cut-flower, you will never run out of flowers for your vases!
The main drawback to False Sunflower is that they may flop or lean when planted in isolation. This can be overcome by planting it in ‘competitive’ areas close to other plants and grasses, like Little Bluestem. Or, you can stake or trim the plant to help keep it upright, aka the ‘Chelsea chop’. [see more strategies on keeping it upright]
Native Range of False Sunflower
In general, the native range of False Sunflower is anything East of the Rocky Mountains in North America. It has escaped cultivation and become established outside of it’s native range in Vermont, New Hampshire, and other areas of New England.  
False Sunflower Reference Table
|Scientific Name||Heliopsis Helianthoides|
|Common Name(s)||False Sunflower, Early Sunflower, Oxeye Sunflower|
|Native Range, USDA Zone||North America, East of the Rocky Mountains. USDA hardiness zones 3-9|
|Bloom Duration, Color||2-3 Months, Yellow|
|Spacing / Spread||2-3′ (60-90 cm)|
|Light Requirements||Full Sun, Partial Shade|
|Soil Types||Sandy loam, loam, clay|
|Moisture||Dry to moist conditions|
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts||Bees, Butterflies, birds eat seeds|
What are the Benefits of False Sunflower
The profuse blooms of False Sunflower make a stunning array of yellow daisy-like flowers that contrast nicely with it’s green foliage. Planted in mass to provide it with depth, you can create a magnificent display of yellow bloom that contrast nicely with it’s green foliage.
Long bloom time
As it is a shorter lived perennial, the nature of False Sunflower is to produce as many blooms as possible for as long as it can. This means you get a ‘super-bloom’ in June where all buds are open. And afterwards sporadic blooming through August. There are not many flowers that can provide that color for that duration.
Cut flowers all season
The large number of blooms produced coupled with it’s 2-3 month bloom duration mean you will have cut flowers for vases nearly all Summer.
The numerous and long blooms of False Sunflower mean that bees and butterflies will have supply of nectar and pollen throughout most of Summer. Having several specimens can really help in attracting wildlife to your yard.
Don’t let it’s beauty fool you! False Sunflower is a rugged and tough plant that can thrive in poor soils. It can grow nearly anywhere that provides full sun.
Grow and Care for False Sunflower
False Sunflower will grow best in full sun, which is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. It can tolerate partial sun, which is roughly 4 hours of direct sunlight per day, but the plant will be shorter and not produce as many blooms. 
False Sunflower can tolerate a wide range of soils. It can grow in anything from sandy-loam, loam, to clay or rocky soils. 
It is not picky on moisture, as it drought tolerant once established and can also tolerate moist conditions.
The primary maintenance for False Sunflower will be pulling volunteer seedlings in Spring, and possible staking or ‘trimming’ to keep the plant upright in the summer.
Deadheading False Sunflower
By cutting and removing spent blooms your False Sunflower will keep looking it’s best throughout the season. Initially in early Summer you are treated to a ‘super bloom’. And afterwards you will receive continual blooms, but the overall appearance won’t be as showy. So, deadhead spent blooms to keep the ‘super bloom’ going all Summer. This will also reduce any self-seeding that may occur.
False Sunflower will not require any supplemental fertilizer. It can thrive in poor, infertile soils.
How to Grow False Sunflower from Seed
False Sunflower (Heliopsis Helianthoides) is easy to grow from seed. It does require approximately 30 days of cold moist stratification.   You can accomplish this by either Winter Sowing the seed, or by simulating Winter by cold stratifying it in the refrigerator. Seeds need to be planted 3-6mm deep (1/*”-1/4″).
Process to germinate False Sunflower seeds
The following steps assume you have either cold stratified seed in the refrigerator, or are going to Winter Sow the seed.
- Fill a suitable container with moist potting soil. Six-pack seed starter packs work well, or even converted milk jugs.
- Plant 3-5 False Sunflower seeds 3-6mm deep
- Place the pot in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.
- Keep the pot moist by watering in the morning only
- Germination should occur within 2-3 weeks of daytime temperatures warming up to 70F.
Continue to nuture the seedlings until they have 2-3 sets of true leaves. Then transplant them out into the garden in a location that is full sun and has well-draining soil.
The first year of the plants life will mainly be growing a sufficient rootstock.
Below is a video guide to False Sunflower I created a few years ago. It should really give you a nice ‘flavor’ for this flower.
Identification and Characteristics of False Sunflower
In general False Sunflower will grow 3-5′ tall. There will be some branching, and the plant can take on a shrub-like form when grown in the open.
The stalk are light green to red-green and will have hairs.
False Sunflower leaves are ovate or lanceolate in shape, 2-5″ long by 1-3″ wide and occur in pairs (opposite) along the stalk. Each pair of leaves is rotated 90 degrees from the previous and has a medium to dark green color. The edges (margins) are serrated. 
There are generally 3 prominent longitudinal veins on each leaf and several prominent lateral veins.
Flowerheads occur at the end of the stems and are generally 1-3″ diameter and erect. The flower heads are daisy like with 10-20 petals (ray flowers) and a central grouping of disc flowers. Petals and disc flowers are a beautiful yellow color. 
Blooming generally starts in early Summer and will last for up to three months. Approximately 4 weeks after a bloom fades seeds will ripen.
Seed can easily be saved from False Sunflower in the same manner one saves seed from Echinacea. Simply collect the dried seed heads in a brown paper bag, and then store them for one week in a cool dry place (like your garage) to completely dry.
Then, place the seed heads in a container with a lid, and shake them up. As the seed heads hit the sides of the container the seed is released (with a small amount of chaff).
Fully dried seed can be stored in a zip-lock bag in a dark place for several years.
False Sunflower has a fibrous root system. Large plants can be divided in early Spring.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with False Sunflower
Numerous species of bees visit False Sunflower including honeybees, bumblebees, leaf cutters, halictid and even other pollinating wasps and flies. Charles Robertson documented 30 species of bees and numerous other pollinating insects in his exhaustive 1929 survey. 
There are several beetles and other insects that will feed on leaves and stems (although not fatal to the plant).
Butterflies will also visit the flowers to collect nectar, although it is not a ‘butterfly magnet’ like Monarda or Ironweed.
Red aphids will frequently attack False Sunflower and feed on the stems. You will find them all along a stem (hundreds) sucking sap. This robs the blooms of nutrients and the effect is smaller blooms that kind of droop down. To control these aphids, you can hold the stem in one hand while spraying the aphids off with a hose.
But personally, I have found the most effective way to control the aphids is to just run your fingers along the stalk and squish them. It is kind of gross, but quick and effective.
In a wildflower or meadow setting, the aphids don’t have a significant adverse effect on the overall appearance of the garden. However, isolated specimens in a more formal setting would have their appearance benefit from controlling the aphids.
Deer and Rabbits
Young foliage will be browsed by deer, but once the leaves fully form they have a rougher texture that seems to keep them away.
None the less, if you are starting these plants from seed I advise you to spray them regularly with Liquid Fence. It is the most reliable method I’ve found to keep deer and rabbits away from any plant. You can find a link to Liquid Fence on our recommended products page.
False sunflower can be susceptible to various foliar diseases such as powdery mildew. If planted in a location with good airflow this will not be a problem. The effects of powdery mildew are primarily cosmetic and will not kill the plant.
As an aside, I never treat any plant for powdery mildew. The amount of effort spent in controlling it is large, and the benefits are minimal, as the plant will always get powdery mildew again as the spores are ubiquitous.
Where you can buy False Sunflower
True native False Sunflower is not typically sold in big-box nurseries. 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.
There are ‘varieties’ of False Sunflower available for purchase such as Tuscan Sun. These varieties and cultivars often result in less pollinators than true native straight species. So, while they may be pretty they do not benefit wildlife.
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.)
Uses of False Sunflower
Garden Uses of False Sunflower
The natural habitat of False Sunflower is prairies, meadows, and roadside ditches. Thus it is right at home in a micro-prairie, a border garden, or anywhere that you allow plants to get a little ‘wild’.
It can be used in formal flowerbeds, but you will need to take some action to stop it from flopping/leaning. Planted in isolation often results in all stalks leaning away from the plant. They won’t touch the ground, but they will easily lean at 50% the height of the plant.
How to stop False Sunflower from leaning/flopping
I have found that the plant must be pruned to keep it upright. One could stake it, but cutting the main stalks back by 50% in June will force the plant to branch and reduce the amount of lean or ‘flop’.
False Sunflower Companion Plants
Due to the long bloom time and wide range of conditions False Sunflower can grow there are numerous species that really look beautiful with it. Some favorite companion plants for False Sunflower would be Echinacea, Liatris, Wild Bergamot, and Ironweed.
But here is a list of additional companion plants that would grow well with False Sunflower:
- Mountain Mint
- Meadow Blazing Star (#1 plant for attracting Monarchs!)
- Showy Tick Trefoil (for wild settings!)
- New England Aster
- Smooth Blue Aster
- Echinacea purpurea
- Wild Bergamot
- Showy Goldenrod
Also, False Sunflower benefits from having nearby competition (it helps it stay upright) so some nice prairie grasses are a good addition. Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem and Purple Top all grow nicely with False Sunflower.
Two Native American Tribes used False Sunflower medicinally. The Chippewa used a Decoction or chewed up root as a stimulant, while the Meskwaki used the root for lung troubles. 
See our list of Native Plant Profiles here!
 – Heliopsis helianthoides. USDA Plant Fact Sheet. Accessed 25APR2022.
 – Fisher, T. Richard. “Variation in Heliopsis helianthoides (L.) Sweet (Compositae).” (1958). Retrieved 25APR2022
 – Zlesak, D. C. “Factors affecting seed germination of Heliopsis helianthoides (L.) Sweet.” Seed Science and Technology 35.3 (2007): 577-594.
 – Corsello, Rachel. “Increasing Germination Rates and Population Growth of Native Plant Gardens on College Campuses“. Diss. Wittenberg University, 2020.
 – Robertson, C. (1929). Flowers and Insects: Lists of Visitors to Four Hundred and Fifty-Three Flowers. C. Robertson, Carlinville, IL. Accessed 30APR2022
 – Heliopsis helianthoides. North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 30APR2022.
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