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 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 petiolaris Prairie Sunflower has showy large bright yellow flowers. The flowers consist of both ray and disk florets. The fruit is now officially known as a cypsela and not an achene as previously thought. Helianthus petiolaris Prairie Sunflower flowers are borne on terminal tips of branches or stems. In North America there are about 62 species for the sunflower genus, Helianthus, and more (71) species world-wide. Note the Bee Flies (Bombylius sp.) hovering over the disk florets. Helianthus petiolaris Prairie 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, from a taproot.

Size: 1 to 4 feet (30-122 cm) or more, 5 feet (152 cm)

Growth Form: Forb/herb; stems upright (erect); multiple branches; stems light green, stems and branches covered with dense white (grayish-white) hair (canescent); slightly rough (scabrous).

Leaves: Green or bluish-green; blade shape variable generally lanceolate; leaves with rough (hispid) stalks or stems (petioles); leaf edges or margin also variable, without or with teeth (serrate); some leaves gland-dotted; leaves arranged alternately along stem.

Flower Color: Yellow; large showy flowers, single flowers on tips of stems; heads with both ray (10 to 30, yellow) and disk (many) florets; bracts (phyllaries) surrounding flower heads generally lanceolate; fruit a cypsela with a pappus of scales.

Flowering Season: March to October

Elevation: 500 to 7,500 feet (152-2,286 m)

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.

North America species range map for Prairie Sunflower, Helianthus petiolaris:
North American range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation

North America species range map for Prairie Sunflower, Helianthus petiolaris: Click image for full size map.
Click image for full size map

U.S. Weed Information: Helianthus petiolaris is listed in:

  • Weeds of the United States and Canada.
  • Plants included here may become weedy or invasive.

    Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: Unknown
    Wetland Indicator: Unknown
    Threatened/Endangered Information: Unknown

    Genus Information: In North America there are 62 species and 62 accepted taxa overall for genus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 71 accepted species names and a further 128 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

    The genus Helianthus was published by Carl Linnaeus, (1707-1778) in 1753.

    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. Data approximate and subject to revision.

    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 (see Recorded Range: above).

    Comments: Prairie Sunflower is similar in appearance to the Common Sunflower which generally has much larger leaves and phyllaries that are moe ovate than lanceolate. Both of these beautiful flower species are often considered weeds by some authorities.

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

    Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
    Most “Sunflowers” with their brightly colored flowers and palatable seeds are known to be visited by hummingbirds and/or small mammals in search of food and nectar.

    Beneficial Value to Butterflies, Bees and Insects
    Most “Sunflowers” of the genus Helianthus, with their brightly colored yellow flowers are known to be visited by butterflies, moths and other insects in search of food. Also, Helianthus flowers, leaves and stems serve as an important host for the larvae (caterpillars) of several species of moths and butterflies known to feed on this plant.

    Special Value to Native Bees
    According to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, hybrid “Sunflowers”, genus Helianthus, are recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of Native bees. Click here and here for more information on their Pollinator Conservation Program.

    The genus “Helianthus” (Helian'thus:) is derived from two Greek words helios, “sun,” and anthos, “flower,” in reference to the sunflower's supposed tendency to always turn toward the sun.

    The genus Helianthus was published by Carl Linnaeus, (1707-1778) in 1753.

    The species epithet petiolaris (petiolar'is:) with conspicuous petioles.

    Prairie Sunflower is used as food, a drug and other purposes by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Havasupai Food, Dried Food and Food, Preserves; Seeds sun dried and stored for winter use and Seeds parched, ground, kneaded into seed butter and eaten with fruit drinks or spread on bread.
  • Havasupai Food, Staple; Seeds ground and eaten as a ground or parched meal.
  • Hopi Drug, Dermatological Aid and Drug, Other; Plant used as a 'spider bite medicine' and Used as a spider medicine.
  • Hopi Food, Fodder and Other, Ceremonial Items; Used as an important food for summer birds and Dried petals ground and mixed with corn meal to make yellow face powder for women's basket dance.
  • Hopi Other, Decorations and Season Indicator; Whole plant used in the decoration of flute priests in the Flute ceremony and Amount of flowers present used as a sign that there will be copious rains and abundant harvest.
  • Navajo, Ramah Drug, Hunting Medicine and Ramah Drug, Panacea; Cold infusion of flowers sprinkled on clothing for good luck in hunting and Cold infusion of whole plant used as 'life medicine.'
  • Thompson Drug, Dermatological Aid; Powdered leaves alone or in ointment used on sores and swellings.

  • See entire listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 10/24/2014, updated 08/08/2020
    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 08/06/2020)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 08/06/2020).
    FNA 2006, Wiggins 1964, Kearney and Peebles 1969, Allred and Ivey 2012, Heil et al 2013.; Editors; S.Buckley 2010, A.Hazelton 2017 from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; (accessed 08/06/2020).
    David J. Keil 2017, Helianthus petiolaris, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, Revision 5, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=3318, accessed on August 08, 2020.
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Helianthus petiolaris', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 April 2020, 02:28 UTC, [accessed 8 August 2020]
    Edward E. Schilling, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21 | Asteraceae, Helianthus, 9. Helianthus petiolaris Nuttall, J. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia. 2: 115. 1821.; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: 08/09/2020]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
    Etymology: Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed 08/06/2020)