Plants of the Prairie: Blackeyed Susan

Scientific Name: Rudbekia hirta

Black eyed Susan growing in the Western Prairie at GDS

It’s time to talk about a native plant in the prairie. Black-eyed Susan’s cheerful face is a familiar sight in Midwestern prairies and gardens. In the prairie it grows as single stems amongst the grass; move it to your garden, and it forms lovely clumps. It is easy to grow and will migrate across your garden beds, moving in wherever it is comfortable. While it is usually considered a biennial or short-lived perennial, it is very hardy and reseeds easily. I have several patches in my yard that all came from a single plant I purchased 17 years ago. The original clump is still in place. Because it is such a cheery and adaptive plant, it has spread from its traditional home in the central and eastern parst of the US to all 48 contiguous states.

Black eyed susan is apparently a great plant for bees and butterflies, but I have to admit I rarely see either landing on them in my yard. Perhaps they just prefer the purple coneflower that I grow in masses nearby and would use the black-eyed susans if they needed to? Or maybe I’m just not looking at the right times? I do see finches grabbing seeds from the dried seed heads in the early fall.

They make a lovely long lasting cut flower and the seedheads, which look like small black pompoms, can be used as an accent in dried flower arrangements. Perhaps I’ll save a few this year and add them to my Christmas planters? You can also apparently make a yellow dye from the plant, although photos I’ve seen of actual dyes made from the flowers ranged from grey to green, so I’m not entirely certain what parts of the plant you would need to use for a yellow dye.

Like echinacea, Black-eyed Susans are used in herbal medicines to treat colds and the flu. It is considered an immunity booster and anti-bacterial. The seeds are apparently poisonous, so only the leaves, petals and rools are used.

In the garden, the Black-Eyed Susan looks charming with phlox, hyssop and sweetspire.

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