Mexican Sunflower – Tithonia rotundifolia

The Mexican Sunflower is a wonderful plant for the back of a border planned to contain hot colours.

If ever there was an under-used annual, this is it. However, no gardener who has grown the Mexican Sunflower has been known to be other than enthusiastic about it. This is a spectacular plant, both in scale and colour.

The tall-growing Tithonia has spreading branches, much in the manner of a candelabra. This is further emphasized by the end of each branch being thickened like a candle-holder. The flowers that sit on top of these swollen stems are Daisy-like, each being about 7.5cm (3in) across. The plant’s stature makes it ideal for the back of a border.

Mexican Sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia

Image via Wikipedia

The fact that it is not often seen is probably because it is not a very good commercial plant, as it doesn’t like its growth to be checked, and sitting around in a garden centre would certainly do that. So you have no option but to grow it yourself.

It is not a difficult plant, as long as you protect it from cold nights and keep the plant growing without any check.

Seed is readily available, and the best variety is the oldest, ‘Torch’. This is the large form with rusty-orange flowers. In more recent times, supposedly improved hybrid forms have appeared, but none of them comes up to the original.

Seed is readily available, and the best variety is the oldest, ‘Torch’. This is the large form with rusty-orange flowers. In more recent times, supposedly improved hybrid forms have appeared, but none of them comes up to the original. ‘Yellow Torch’ (Tithonia rotundifolia) has yellow flowers, but otherwise is the same. ‘Goldfinger’, also known as Torch Improved’, is a runt of a plant, being only 75cm (30 in) high. It loses all the stature and poise of ‘Torch’, but may be useful if you only have a small garden.

Don’t plant out young plants until all threat of frost, and even cold nights, has passed. This means the beginning of Summer at the earliest. Set them out at least 60cm (2ft) apart, further if they are strong-growing plants.

These are quick-growing plants and must not be allowed to check through lack of moisture.

These are not at all hardy and will die off at a hint of frost. Cold nights will check their growth, so plant late or be prepared to cover with cloches if necessary.

Support will be needed in most gardens, but especially those that are exposed; a 1.5m (5ft) cane will be needed. Deadhead to prolong flowering.

An open, sunny site is an essential requirement.

Sow seed in early May under gentle heat and prick-out into individual pots. Harden-off well before planting out.

If planted out in late June, they can be used to replace Foxgloves.

FAMILY Compositae

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