Named for Olaf Rudbeck (1660-1740) a botany teacher of Linnaeus, who established the system of classifying plants using Latin. Linnaeus respected Rudbeck greatly, and told his professor that “so long as the earth shall survive, and each spring shall see it covered with flowers, the Rudbeckia will preserve your glorious name.” Quite a legacy!
There are 25 species in Rudbeckia clan, who are all part of the Aster family, as indicated by their daisy-like flower. There are annuals, biennials, and perennials. Rudbeckias have been known by a variety of names including conedisk, conedisk sunflower, tall coneflower, gloriosa daisies, and brown-eyed Susans. Hybridizers have taken the single daisy to new forms. Rudbeckias now come in single, semi-double, fully double, and fluffy forms in a variety of colors from lemon-yellows, golds, orange, burgundy, bicolors and combinations of those colors. One variety is and even green! They all have stunning, spiky central cones similar to the Echinaceas, the perennial coneflowers. Generally, the plants have coarse-textured, hairy green leaves, and strong, stiff stems that make them good for cut flower bouquets.
A reliable, easy to grow plant, Rudbeckias are able to adapt to a wide variety of conditions. They have very few insect or disease problems, and require little care. They are happy in full sun to light shade. They range in height from 10” for dwarf varieties such as “Toto” to the common Black-eyed Susan, which can reach over 5’. They are generally easy to grow from seed, and the non-hybrids are good self-seeders.
Rudbeckias quickly became popular in English gardens even before they were valued in American gardens. British plant collector John Tradescant was given roots of the plant by early explorers. The famous herbalist John Parkinson grew it in his garden and studied its properties, discovering things the Native Americans had known for centuries. They used it to treat both people and horses, using the roots and the flowers to treat a variety of ailments: snake bites, worms, ear aches, indigestion, burns and sores.
Rudbeckias are generally striking in the garden. Their center cones are filled with seeds that late in the season are a feast for many birds. Some of the most popular rudbeckias currently on the market are:
R. hirta, generally called Gloriosa Daisy, available in a wide range of sizes and flower colors. This is the largest group of rudbeckias for the garden. The flowers bloom from July till frost in shades of yellow, yellow-orange, and orange. Most are short-lived perennials, often grown as annuals in northern regions. Besides the common Black-eyed Susan, there are many hybrids. Some of the most popular members of this group are:
“Cherry Brandy”-New! Stunning daisy in rich burgundy shades. 12-20”
“Indian Summer”-large golden yellow or bi-color, single or semi-double blooms, 3-4’ “Autumn Colors”-large 5-7” single blooms in vivid mahogany on gold, 20-24”
“Prairie Sun”-stunning bicolor primrose yellow petals darken to deep gold toward the centers, which are bright green, 28-32”
“Cherokee Sunset”-range of double to fluffy 4” blooms in gold to bronze, 24-30”
“Toto”-big 3” yellow or bi-color daisy on dwarf 12” plant
“Sonora”-Fleuroselect winner, golden yellow with big mahogany center, 16”
“Maya”-4” golden blooms are fully double, 18-20”
“Early Bird Gold”-A day-length neutral sport of Goldsturm, so it starts blooming earlier and continues to bloom longer. Yellow-gold with black cone. 24”
“Black Eyed Susan’-small 1-2” bright yellow daisies with black centers, 3-5’
R.occidentalis “Green Wizard”-3-5” daisy made of colorful green sepals surrounding a black cone.
R.var. sullivantii “Goldsturm”-a durable plant with extra large “Black-eyed Susan” type blooms of gold with black centers. Long-blooming and showy in the garden. 24-30”
(Sometimes also listed as R. fulgida)
R. triloba “Black-Eyed Susan Triloba”-small yellow daisy, petals darken toward the center. Self-sowing biennial. 3-4’