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October 13th, 2021

Our native sunflower loves the beach

by R.S. Walsh

Southern Florida is bringing the sun to you with this native bloomer, the dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis), which owns a bright flare of yellow, and spreads like a wild fire! But don’t be alarmed, this flowering sprout of the sand dunes can be the perfect complement to your seaside landscape.

The dune sunflower is a powerhouse! With a high tolerance for salty winds and drought, along with rapid growth and flowering year-round, what more could you ask for from a blooming beauty? Reaching 2-4 feet in height, with potential of crawling up to 8 feet wide, this plant’s growth offers a wide variety of possibilities for landscape styling. With that being said, the dune sunflower works well as groundcover, especially in butterfly gardens, as well as edging, large masses, and cascades upon walls or fences. When rooted in the ground, the flowering shrub fancies sandy soil, similar to its native preference for the beach’s salty sand dunes. Also, direct sun is the ideal living condition for this coastal greenery.

This beachy sunflower is a branch upon the daisy plant family tree (Asteraceae), with an abundance of small, bright yellow flowers with dark brown centers full of seeds and pollen. The pollen feeds all kinds of insects, while the seeds feed the ground in order to self-multiply and germinate new sprouts. Historically speaking, Native Americans took advantage of the flowers and seeds produced by this plant to create colored dyes of pale green and dark black for textiles, pottery, and body paint. How creative! Nowadays, the dune sunflower sticks to growing full and looking pretty, as it brightens up our island beachfronts, as well as our own backyards!

The possibilities are endless with this easy-maintenance bloom, for it is fast-growing, spreads easily, adapts well to the island life, and adds a pop of color to your garden.

This column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, Sanibel’s local garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Rd., Sanibel Island, Florida.

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