prairie sunflower

(Helianthus petiolaris ssp. petiolaris)

Conservation Status
prairie sunflower
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N3N5 - Vulnerable to Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed


Prairie sunflower is an erect, annual forb that rises on a single stem from a taproot. It can be from 16 to 78 tall, though in Minnesota it is seldom more than 40 in height.

The stems are erect, relatively stout, and moderately covered with short, stiff, ascending hairs.

There are usually 8 to 25 alternate leaves. Sometimes the leaves near the base of the stem are opposite. The larger leaves are leaf stalks that are usually ¾ to 1½ long, but may be as much as 4 long.

The leaf blades are lance-shaped to triangular egg-shaped, and flat, not folded longitudinally. They are 2¾ to 7 long and ¾ to 4 wide, 2 to 5 times as long as wide. They are slightly heart-shaped, wedge-shaped, or squared off at the base, and taper to a sharp point at the tip. The upper surface is usually green, sometimes bluish-green, and rough to the touch with minute, straight, appressed hairs. The lower surface is similar, but may also be sparsely covered with yellow glands. The margins are untoothed or finely, irregularly toothed. The leaves have 3 main veins, a midvein and a pair of lateral veins that branch off the main vein at the base of the blade and arch upward.

The inflorescence is rarely a solitary head, usually an open, branched cluster of 2 to 5 flower heads at the end of the stem. The flower heads are on stalks that are 1½ to 6 long or longer. The stalks usually do not have a leafy bract subtending the flower head.

The whorl of bracts at the base of the flower head (involucre) is to 1 in diameter. The bracts of the involucre are lance-shaped to narrowly egg-shaped and taper to a sharply-pointed tip. The tips of the bracts are sometimes loosely ascending, but more often are spreading and then curved upwards at the tip.

The flower heads are 1½ to 2½ wide, the disk is to 1 in diameter. There are 10 to 30 yellow ray florets and 50 to 100 or more reddish-brown to purple disk florets.

The fruit is an achene.




16 to 40


Flower Color


Yellow ray florets, reddish-brown to purple disk florets


Similar Species




Dry. Prairies, bluff tops, railroads, roadsides, and open, disturbed areas. Full sun. Sandy soil.




June to September


Pests and Diseases


Sunflower bullet gall midge (Pilodiplosis helianthibulla) makes ¼ in diameter, almost globe-shaped galls on the leaves of plants in the genus Helianthus.




Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 22, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Asteranae  


Asterales (sunflowers, bellflowers, fanflowers, and allies)  


Asteraceae (sunflowers, daisies, asters, and allies)  
  Subfamily Asteroideae  
  Supertribe Helianthodae  
  Tribe Heliantheae (sunflowers and allies)  
  Subtribe Helianthinae  
  Genus Helianthus (sunflowers)  
  Species Helianthus petiolaris (prairie sunflower)  

Subordinate Taxa








Common Names


Kansas sunflower

petioled sunflower

plains sunflower

prairie sunflower










A dry, one-chambered, single-seeded fruit, formed from a single carpel, with the seed attached to the membranous outer layer (wall) only by the seed stalk; the wall, formed entirely from the wall of the superior ovary, does not split open at maturity, but relies on decay or predation to release the contents.



Modified leaf at the base of a flower stalk, flower cluster, or inflorescence.



A whorl of bracts beneath or surrounding a flower or flower cluster.

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Flower Head

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  Helianthus petiolaris
Matt Lavin
  Helianthus petiolaris  

Native taprooted annuals, stems up to about 0.5 m tall, leaves essentially lanceolate, involucral bracts lanceolate, receptacle chaffy, all receptacle bracts with long white hairs at tip, pappus of two deciduous scales, flowering during the late season, common in disturbed sites from low to middle elevations, especially abundant along roadsides.




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