Ask Master Gardener Volunteer Linda Clemens
This year, I tried something new for my butterfly garden. I wanted a tall, vigorous plant for my bed of sunflowers and giant cosmos, something that would bloom
during hot weather and be self-sufficient and of course look great. The seed catalogs offered Tithonia (Tithonia rotundifolia), variety Red Torch, (also known as Mexican Sunflower) and I am happy to report a success.
Tithonia is a 4 to 6 foot tall, drought tolerant, multi-branched annual that does well in full summer sun and poor sandy soils. Its bright
orange flowers attract all kinds of butterflies, as well as other pollinator insects and hummingbirds. The flowers are followed by abundant brown, triangular seeds. I have read that Tithonia will re-seed in an undisturbed bed.
I grew six plants from seed, starting them indoors with my other spring flowers and herbs in late January. I transplanted them into my butterfly garden in April. Since then, my plants have grown about four feet tall, and are covered with bright orange flowers. They do not seem to be distressed by summer heat and humidity. I’ll definitely grow this one again!
One word of caution: there are several different species of Tithonia and several plants called Mexican Sunflower. I grew Tithonia rotundiflora, variety Red Torch. Avoid Tithonia diversifolia, a yellow-flowered invasive species.
Here is another reference that has more information about Mexican sunflowers:
Mexican Sunflower: Tithonia rotundifolia (University of Wisconsin Extension)
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