East Coast Dune Sunflower: an appreciation

One dune sunflower plant has spread beautifully over a six foot triangle.
The east coast dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis) is one of Florida's 14 native sunflowers and one of three that are widely available in the native plant trade according to Gil Nelson's Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants. I purchased a plant this spring at a gardenfest and planted it in a hot dry area out next to our mailbox. To say that it's done well is an understatement.

The flower heads are about 2.5 inches across and they are plentiful. I'll have a lots of seed to share with members of my FNPS chapter, but there will be plenty left for the birds. You can see a spent flower in the foreground of the photo to the right.

Sunflowers belong to the daisy plant family (Asteraceae), which is the largest plant family with more than 22,000 species.  Sunflowers have the typical flower head arrangement for this family, which is composed of many florets sharing a single receptacle. The florets arrange themselves to look superficially like a single flower: sterile ray flowers around the edge look like petals, while the central disk florets, arranged spirally, are fertile and produce the seeds.

So how can you find which native plants will do well in your yard?  We have several terrific books in addition to Gil's book, which are listed on the right side of this blog.  (When you use our links to purchase books (or anything else) on Amazon, FNPS earns $$.)

There are some exceptional online resources where you can find native plant information.  Using the dune sunflower, which has done so well in my yard as an example, here's what I found:

On our own Florida Native Plant Society website: this page allows you to select your county for a list of plants endemic to your area. When I choose Clay County, the dune sunflower is not listed.  Even though it's a Florida native, it has not been found here in the wild. (See the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants below.) Probably because our waterfront areas, which face rivers, lakes, and creeks, are lacking in dunes. If I click St. Johns County to our east, the dune sunflower is listed and a link is provided to...

...the dune sunflower listing on Natives for Your Neighborhood (http://www.regionalconservation.org/).  This is a wonderful resource for south Florida. You can enter your zip code to find detailed listings for native plants there.  My Clay County zip is invalid here, but this is an informative profile of the plant. 

The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants is the go to resource for all of Florida and is THE recognized authority of what is native and what is not. The page for the dune sunflower shows that it's only been found in the eastern coastal counties, which is why it's not listed for Clay County.

The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants is a joint effort by the Institute for Systematic Botany, the University of South Florida and the Florida Center for Community Design & Research to provide users with a comprehensive searchable database of vascular plants in the State of Florida.

Florida, with over 4,200 species of native or naturalized ferns and seed plants, is the third most floristically diverse state in the United States. The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants provides a source of information for the distribution of plants within the state.  Many of the excellent photos are by our own Shirley Denton.

Another resource with in-depth plant profiles is a plant encyclopedia http://www.floridata.com/ run by Jack Scheper. (Full disclosure: I've been posting articles on this site for several years.) What I like about the profiles is that there are several photos show various aspects of the plant, personal experience with the plant, as well as details on planting zones and conditions.  The icons at the top of each listing show 'Features': attacts butterflies, grows fast, and is drought tolerant and 'Type':an annual, a perennial, and a vine. (Whether it's an annual or perennial depends on the climate.)  Here is the link for the dune sunflower.

Jack has built in some new tools for the Floridata site and says, "Organizations like FNPS could literally create searchable databases with tens of thousands of entries - using our photos if they want or their own or uploading their own onto Floridata's servers."

Jack is excited about the new tools, and went on to explain, "Here's one of my photo lists displayed as slideshow - used to display plant lists mainly intended for use in presentations or displays with less than 50 items: www.floridata.com/jq/viewlistslideshow.cfm?listID=569

"Here is the same plant list but displayed in a datagrid. The data grid is intended for plant lists focusing on information rather than images; very useful when a list contains more than 50 items. Try out the search filter here: www.floridata.com/jq/viewlist.cfm?listID=569.  You can sort these in different ways: click on column names, to reverse direction of sort click column name again. To open search, click the magnifying glass in lower left corner of grid, input fields will display beneath column names. I'm working on instructions for these "viewers" now too...  There's also plain HTML views available for smaller simpler lists."

These tools should help us all grow as native ID experts!

Ginny Stibolt

Go to the FNPS website for information on your local FNPS chapter's activities. Also see details on the FNPS's annual conference in May 2011. This year it's near Orlando; it will be fun and educational. We hope to see you there! 


Anonymous said…
Thanks for this, especially the cool online resources.

V. Avery
Roger Agness said…
I bought one plant from a local FNP nursery in July 2010, and now it's grandchildren are so many that I give them away to the neighbors and have to pull/cull them. Love this plant!
Roger - I hear that! I got a piece from a friend and have since propagated it umpteen times! Good stuff!

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