Aster family (Asteraceae)
Description: This native perennial plant is 3-5' tall, branching occasionally and becoming rather bushy in open situations. The light green stems have scattered white hairs and are rather angular. The opposite leaves are up to 5" long and 3½" across, ovate to broadly ovate in shape, and coarsely serrated along the margins. They are usually dark green and have a rough texture.
The daisy-like composite flowers are 2-3½" across. They are usually held erect and occur individually at the ends of flowering stems. The ray florets are light to golden yellow, while central disk florets are a slightly darker shade of yellow and form a flattened cone. Both the ray and disk florets are fertile, and can form viable seeds. There are no tufts of hair attached to the seeds. The blooming period occurs from early to late summer and lasts about 2½ months. There is no noticeable scent to the flowers. The root system is fibrous.
Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, and moist to slightly dry loamy soil, although rocky ground and clay are tolerated. This plant is easy to grow, and tolerates more shade than most prairie wildflowers. It is quick to develop, but is not thought to be particularly long-lived.
Range & Habitat: The False Sunflower occurs throughout Illinois, except for a few southern counties (see Distribution Map). It is a fairly common plant, favoring disturbed areas. Habitats include mesic black soil prairies, open woodlands and woodland borders, thickets, limestone glades, and areas along railroads. It is often grown in flower gardens, and sometimes escapes to neighboring waste areas. This plant is usually found not far from woodland areas, rather than in the open prairie.
Faunal Associations: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract their fair share of insects, including long-tongued bees, Halictine bees, bee flies, butterflies, Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus (Goldenrod Soldier Beetle), and other insects. The caterpillars of Papaipoma rigida (Rigid Sunflower Borer Moth) sometimes bore through the stems.
Photographic Location: The photographs were taken at Kaufman Lake Park in Champaign, Illinois, near some trees.
Comments: This plant is desirable chiefly because of its long blooming season during the summer, and its ease of cultivation. It's possible to confuse the False Sunflower with one of the woodland sunflowers, but the former can be distinguished by its fertile and more numerous ray florets, rather broad and distinctively veined leaves, earlier blooming period, and the greater tendency of the flowers to be held erect on the plant, resembling yellow Zinnias.