Tithonia – a sippy cup for butterflies

A bright orange flower
A Fresh Tithonia Bloom – Open for Business to Pollinators

The Tithonia or Mexican sunflower is a spectacular annual flowering plant that does well in our area.  I used to grow it as a kid up north but found that it does even better in Florida! Easy to start from seed, this brilliant orange-red flower will impress you.

Tithonia rotundiflora is an old-time annual flower favorite not to be confused with a perennial relative called the Bolivian Sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia).  While Tithonia rotundiflora Is a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ approved annual, and not a problem species according to the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas, Tithonia diversifolia is an aggressive plant can easily take over an area.  In fact, it is listed as a High Invasion Risk and is predicted to be invasive and not recommended by IFAS.

The Tithonia in today’s article is easily controlled and a pleasure to have in your yard.  Growing from five to six feet tall, this annual has fuzzy, soft leaves and stems topped with three-inch, bright orange-red flowers with yellow centers that remind you of a daisy or a zinnia.  Direct seed in a full sun location in late winter/early spring for summer and fall flowers.  Be prepared to stake your Tithonia as they can get floppy and fall over.

The cultivar called ‘Torch’ is perhaps the most common selection and has been given an All-America Selection designation.  There is also a yellow cultivar.  Both of these cultivars are tall, so you may want to look at some dwarf varieties.  Only growing to three feet tall, ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Fiesta Del Sol’ provide a more compact version of this plant.  Both heat and drought tolerant, Tithonia do well in our summer weather and are often available at most local seed racks, or from on-line seed catalogs.

Besides being a colorful bedding plant, Tithonia lends itself to the production of great cut flowers that keep producing.  This flowering plant is also a magnet for butterflies and other pollinators.  Butterflies love to perch and sip nectar from the high vantage point provided by the Tithonia.  This plant may also supply seed for birds at certain times in the year.

Once an individual flower fades, it will set seed which will likely drop to the ground, germinate, and may provide another set of Tithonia to flower in fall and early winter.  A frost will likely finish off the plants, but many seeds will self-sow and become ‘volunteers’ for next year.  As such, Tithonia can naturalize a bit wherever it is grown.  Also, look to pass some extra seeds to a friend as Tithonia makes an excellent “pass-along” plant.

So, if you are looking for success with annuals in 2024, perhaps the Tithonia will be part of your garden!  For more information on all types of annual flowers suitable for our area, or to ask a question, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov. Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco.

Delvalle,  T.  B. (2015) Garden Help: Colors, butterflies in abundance. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Duval County.
Malone, K. C., Wilber, W., Hansen, G., Daniels,  J. C., Larsen C. & Momol E. (2020) Community ButterflyScaping: How to Move Beyond Butterfly Gardening to Create a Large-Scale Butterfly Habitat. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Yates L. (2014) Passalong Plants Add Variety to the Garden.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Leon County
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2022) The University of Florida Extension Services.
UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. (2023). The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.


ralph mitchell
Posted: June 13, 2024

Category: Home Landscapes
Tags: Drought-tolerant, Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories