Re-assessing plant hardiness zones
Annuals and Perennials at Ball Open Days

A startling perennial sunflower

AmGardJulyAug2010 There’s a great overview of sunflowers in the latest issue of The American Gardener, the membership magazine from the American Horticultural Society. It covers annual and perennial sunflowers but one of the pictures leapt out off the page.

The tall stems of Helianthus maximiliani ‘Santa Fe’, lined with bright yellow daisies look amazing (left, click to enlarge). In particular, I immediately thought this plant would make a superb cut flower.

I vaguely remembered that I’d included the species in my Encyclopedia of Perennials – and there it is. And I find that the daisies expert who helped with the Helianthus entry gives its height as 10ft/3m! (Always wise to start by looking things up in your own books, that's what I say.)

So I next took a look at the “bible” on less familiar cut flowers - Specialty Cut Flowers by Allan Armitage and Judy Lauschman. And to be honest the small entry was not very encouraging. “The very tall plants (up to 9ft, 3m) can be used to lengthen the season. They… can be invasive.”  See what I mean? Not exactly a vote of confidence. And at 9or10ft/3m, that is one hell of a cut flower – what am I supposed to arrange it in, a pond?

The American Gardener article illustrates ‘Santa Fe’ but doesn’t actually say how it differs from the usual species. So I had a look online.55952

High Country Gardens sell it and they say that ‘Santa Fe’ “is our superior cultivar selected for its incredible flowers, stunning foliage and mid-fall bloom time”. So I’ve happily arrived at the nursery who raised it! And they’re based in, need you ask, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

You’ll notice that their picture (left, click to enlarge) shows a rather shorter plant with spectacular stems crowded with flowers.I think I’m going to order ‘Santa Fe’, and the two other forms they list, and see how they all do here at the opposite end of the country.

I see from the USDA website that Helianthus maximiliani grows all over the country – including our corner of north east PA, though I've never seen it round here. And the High Country Gardens website says it’s hardy to zone 4 – that would be -34C (-30F)! Can’t wait.

And since I started working on this piece a couple of days ago – it’s gone on sale! I’d better get my order in.


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Jonathan Knisely

A minor typo in the name of the Armitage/Lauschman book: 'Specialty'.

It looks as though 'Santa Fe' would be an excellent plant for highway verges, traffic islands, etc. Guerilla gardeners might find it a very useful plant.


Excellent information! Thanks for sharing.

Graham Rice

Thanks Jonathan - that was the British spelling! This Transatlantic life...! Now corrected.

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