Black-eyed susans are not sunflowers, but they are part of the sunflower family. At first glance they do look quite similar, but when you dig beneath the surface (not literally!) there are some obvious differences. Either way they are both beautiful and cheery plants and well worth growing.
A Closer Look at Black-Eyed Susans
The black-eyed susans scientific name is Rudbeckia hirta.
The first part of the name was given to honor Olof Rudbeck the Younger and Olof Rudbeck the Elder, two distinguished Swedish naturalists from the 17th century.
The second part, hirta, means hairy and accounts for the thin hairs that cover the leaves and stems of the flower.
Black-eyed susans bloom widely in late August and are the state flower of Maryland. Its popularity is largely due to the fact it is easy to grow, attracts lots of wildlife and has a bright, vibrant look.
It is also known as Gloriosa Daisy, Yellow Ox-Eye Daisy, English Bulls-Eye, and Golden Jerusalem.
But let’s get to the point:
Are Black-Eyed Susans the Same as Sunflowers?
No, they are not the same as sunflowers, whilst they look similar and share many traits black-eyed susans are not sunflowers.
However, black-eyed susans are members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), so black-eyed susans and sunflowers are related.
So if you are asking are black-eyed susans sunflowers? The answer is no. If you are asking are black-eyed susans part of the sunflower family? Then the answer is yes.
So this is why they look similar, like humans do they share a family resemblance!
They both bloom in the summer and they both have bright petals that surround a dark brown central disk. Both also have a preference for lots of sun and soil that is moist and well-drained.
What is the Difference Between a Black-Eyed Susan and a Sunflower?
Take a closer look at the petals of each and you should be able to see an obvious difference.
Black-eyed susans petals tend to be longer and a darker yellow. They also hang back from the center of the plant.
Sunflowers tend to have smaller petals that are more of a light yellow color, with the petals splaying in more of a straight line than black-eyed susans
Sunflowers leaves are triangular in shape and rougher to the touch than the leaves on a black-eyed susan. They are also wider and larger, with a black-eyed susan having narrow, oblong-shaped leaves.
There is also a notable contrast in both height and the size of the center of the flowerheads of each plant.
Unsurprisingly sunflowers grow taller than black-eyed susans. Generally they reach between 1.8m and 3m (6ft to 10ft), with giant sunflowers growing up to 6m (20ft) tall.
By contrast, the most common varieties of black-eyed susans generally only grow to be about 1m (3ft) tall, and have a wider bushy spread.
Black-eyed susans also have much smaller centers than a sunflower, with a raised disc in the center of its flowerhead in contrast to a sunflower’s larger, flatter disc.
Here is a difference you won’t want to get mixed up.
Sunflower seeds are edible, and can be eaten either raw or roasted. In fact the yellow florets on sunflowers are also edible.
Whilst many birds love the seeds of black-eyed susans, they are not to be eaten by humans, nor is any other part of the plant.
When They Grow
Black-eyed susans have the upper hand here. Among its many varieties are both annual and perennials.
Most sunflowers are perennial, and will die as the colder weather sets in
Tolerance to Wind
Due to their thin stems and height, sunflowers struggle more in windy conditions and need to be tied to a stake to support them.
Black-eyed susans are smaller and often group in groups, and are more tolerant to windy conditions.
How Many Varieties of Black-Eyed Susan Are There?
There are dozens of species of black-eyed susans, in fact there are believed to be over 40 different varieties of the plant.
The different varieties bloom in a range of colors, with orange, brown, mahogany and pink petals all common.
They have some pretty enticing names too, including:
Cherokee Sunset: As pretty as the name suggests, this has large, warm yellow and chocolate brown blooms
Cherry Brandy: This stunning variety has chocolate-burgundy flowers and a red-burgundy center.
Goldsturm: Notable for its yellow star-shaped flowers and doorknob-esque center.
Prairie Sun: With eye-catching orange petals and a distinctive pale green center
Tiger Eye Gold: Dense, bright yellow petals that contrast beautifully with a darker center
Toto Gold/Lemon: Multi-colored petals that are surprisingly wide.
There are so many types of black-eyed susans, that there is bound to be something to suit your garden.
What is the Difference Between a Black-Eyed Susan and a Brown-Eyed Susan?
Just to throw a bit more confusion into the “what is the difference between a black-eyed susan and a sunflower?” debate, there is also a variety of the plant called a brown-eyed susan.
So if you are asking “is a black-eyed susan the same as a brown-eyed susan?” The answer again is, whilst they are similar, they are not the same flower.
The main differences are:
Brown-eyed susans are taller than black-eyed susans and bloom later
The brown-eyed susan has a flower head that is noticeably smaller than the black-eyed susan.
The brown-eyed susan has a central stalk that branches a number of times. Black-eyed susans tend to have a single stalk.
I hope this clears things up.
Four Reasons to Grow Black-Eyed Susans
Let’s finish by exploring why black-eyed susans are so popular and what makes them great flowers to grow.
#1 They Are Great For Wildlife
Grow black-eyed susans in your garden and you will have a continuous procession of wildlife.
Bees and butterflies in particular love them for the nectar they provide.
Even as fall approaches and the flowers begin to wilt, expect plenty of birds in your garden feeding on the resulting seeds.
#2 They Bloom For A LONG Time!
There is nothing to match a garden full of flowers and color. It is here black-eyed susans have an advantage over lots of other flowers.
As other beautiful flowers bloom and die off, the black-eyed susan tends to blossom right up until the first frost.
They will undoubtedly give you a garden to be proud of for even longer.
#3 They Require Little Maintenance
Once you have planted your black-eyed susans they really do require minimal care and attention.
They are very hardy flowers and require little in the way of water.
So that means if you live in a drier climate, you don’t have to be too worried about constantly getting your watering can out for them.
Water them after planting and establishing them, and after that they should be pretty much fine.
#4 They Grow ANYWHERE!
Black-eyed susans grow in pretty much every climate zone in the USA, thrive in a range of soil types, whether the pH balance is high or low, and can cope with full sun or partial shade.
Throw in the variety of the species and you have a plant suitable for all styles of yards and all kinds of weather.
I know we have deviated a bit here from the original question of “Are black-eyed susans sunflowers?”, but they are such a beautiful and versatile flower I had to!
As you can see, for all their similarities, black-eyed susans are not sunflowers. However black-eyed susans are part of the sunflower family.
The reason many people confuse the two plants is because they do look similar. They are both bright, vibrant and quite beautiful and both definitely worth growing if you want something to put a smile on your face in the summer as you look out across your garden.
Steve is a one time gardening hater turned into gardening obsessive.
This was all thanks to going to University where a two year stint spent transforming the previously horrific garden of the student house he lived in left him addicted to all things horticultural!
Now with a new house in tow and due to some fortunate circumstances he is free to test out a whole host of gardening equipment.
Find out more about Steve or drop him an email at email@example.com.