Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Helianthus petiolaris, Prairie Sunflower

Prairie Sunflower, like most sunflowers, Prairie Sunflower has showy yellow flowers with reddish-brown centers that attract a lot of insects. Here a Crab Spider (Misumena sp.) feasts on an unfortunate winged insect. Helianthus petiolarisPrairie Sunflower is a tap rooted native annual that grows up to 5 feet or more, usually much less. These beautiful flowers bloom from March to October across their broad geographic range over most of North America. Note Crab Spider (Misumena sp.) in photos hiding along the edge of the disk flowers. Helianthus petiolarisPrairie Sunflower flowers are borne on terminal tips of branches or stems. In North America there are about 50 species for the sunflower genus, Helianthus, and more (71) species world-wide. Helianthus petiolarisPrairie Sunflower has green or bluish-green leaves, mostly alternate with long leaf-stems (petiolate), lanceolate to widely ovate. This species grows at elevations from 500 to 7,500 feet and prefers sunny open areas, sandy or gravelly areas and roadsides and disturbed areas. Helianthus petiolaris

Scientific Name: Helianthus petiolaris
Common Name: Prairie Sunflower
Also Called: Plains Sunflower, Sunflower (Spanish: Girasol)
Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family
Synonyms: (Helianthus niveus ssp. canescens, Helianthus canescens, Helianthus canus)
Status: Native
Duration: Annual, taproot
Size: 6 feet or more, usually much less.
Growth Form: Shrub; erect with many branching stems, glaucous or densely gray-canescent; rough.
Leaves: Green or bluish-green; leaves mostly alternate; petiolate; lanceolate to widely ovate; margins entire or serrate; rough, hairy.
Flower Color: Yellow; showy radiate heads (1 to 10 heads) borne on terminal tips; green phyllaries are lanceolate to widely ovate; ray flowers yellow, 10 to 30, disk florets numerous, reddish-brown, seed an achene.
Flowering Season: March to October.
Elevation: 500 to 7,500 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Sunny open areas, sandy or gravelly areas, roadsides and disturbed areas, dry or moist areas.

Recorded Range: Much of the United States and Canada and south into northern Mexico. Found in scattered populations throughout most of the southwestern United States.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Helianthus petiolaris.

U.S. Weed Information: Helianthus petiolaris is included in Weeds of the United States and Canada. Plants included here may become weedy or invasive.

Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No data available,
Wetland Indicator: No data available,
Threatened/Endangered Information: No data available.

Genus Information: In North America there are about 50 species and 10 hybrids for Helianthus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 71 accepted species names and a further 128 species of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 8 species of Helianthus, California has 11 species, Nevada has 7 species, New Mexico has 14 species, Texas has 21 species, Utah has 6 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

There are 2 sub species in Helianthus petiolaris
Helianthus petiolaris ssp. fallax, Prairie Sunflower, (AZ, CO, NV, UT, NM )
Helianthus petiolaris ssp. petiolaris, Prairie Sunflower (most of North America);

Comments: The large bright attractive flowers are visited frequently by many insects including many species of bees and the seeds are readily eaten by birds, small mammals and humans. Check out the Xerces Society for current information relating to invertebrate conservation.

Prairie Sunflower is similar in appearance to the Common Sunflower which generally has much larger leaves. Both of these beautiful species are often considered weeds by some authorities.

In Southwestern Desert Flora also see Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus and Showy Sunflower, Helianthus niveus.

Prairie Sunflower is used as a drug by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.

  • Keres, Western Drug, Hemostat; Stem juice applied to open bleeding wounds.

  • See entire listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.
    Date Profile Completed: 10/24/2014, 06/30/2015; Updated, 07/25/2015, updated 10/12/2016, updated 05/24/2017, updated format 10/10/2017
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 05/23/2017)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 05/23/2017).
    David J. Keil 2017. Helianthus petiolaris, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on May 24, 2017.
    Edward E. Schilling, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21 | Asteraceae | Helianthus, FNA Vol. 21 Page 142, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford. (accessed 10/21/2014)
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: 05/24/2017]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations,