A flower that is so prominent in American culture should have a more appealing name than black-eyed Susan. Even the Latin name, Rudbeckia hirta, sounds bad. Is Becky really so rude? Did she hirt Susan? Well, black-eyed Susan is good enough to be the state flower of Maryland, and is one of the most popular of flowers for prairie style gardens of the Midwest. After all, it naturally grows wild in every state east of Colorado. Here in the West, it is a light-duty perennial that is more often grown as an annual. As a cut flower, it can last more than a week.
In the wild, the three inch wide flowers of black-eyed Susan are rich yellow with dark brown centers, and can stand as high as three feet. The typically smaller but more abundant flowers of modern varieties can be orange, red or brownish orange, on more compact stems. Gloriosa daisies are fancier cultivars, with larger flowers that are often fluffier (double) or patterned with a second color. Individual plants do not get much wider than a foot, with most of their rather raspy foliage close to the ground. All black-eyed Susans bloom late in summer or early in autumn.
If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. In the 1960s and 1970s, such accessorizing with Paris daisy, Argyranthemum frutescens (which was at the time, Chrysanthemum frutescens), was a fad. The white flowers with yellow centers were about two or three inches wide. Modern cultivars have smaller flowers that might be light pink or pastel yellow.
Bloom continues in phases from spring through autumn. Light shearing as each bloom phase fades promotes fuller bloom of the subsequent phase. However, if conditions are right, bloom may be nearly continuous, without much pause between phases. Unlike the tougher yellow euryops daisy, Paris daisy wants rich soil, regular watering and maybe a bit of fertilizer for best performance.
Individual plants can get three feet tall and twice as broad, but live only a few years. Lower stems that develop roots where they touch the ground can be left to grow as new plants when an original plant dies. If they do not get roots on their own, lower stems can be pressed into the soil and held down with rocks (with their leafy tips exposed) to grow roots before the parent plant deteriorates.
No, this is not a Paris daisy. It is a common euryops daisy, Euryops pectinatus. It is obviously related, but the flowers are bright yellow rather than clear white with yellow centers, and the foliage is darker green. It is more resilient, so became more common in landscapes as quickly as mow, blow and go ‘gardeners’ replaced real gardeners who actually know something of horticulture. There is certainly nothing wrong with it. It is just cliché.
The few remaining Paris daisies are fancier cultivars of the old fashioned traditional sort anyway. Some bloom pale pink. Some bloom pale yellow. Flowers might have fluffy centers of the same color. Foliage might be pale grayish green. Plants are more compact. The cultivar that most closely resembles the old Paris daisy has more profuse, but smaller flowers. The cultivars are all quite nice, but are not quite the same as what we remember.
The original Paris daisy, Chrysanthemum frutescens, which is now known as Argyranthemum frutescens, was the sort of flower you wore in your hair if you were going to San Francisco in the late 1960s, or according to my memory, in the very early 1970s. It looked just like the three plastic daisies in the upper right (or lower left) corner of those cool AstroTurf door mats that were so popular. Perhaps they were cliché for their time too.
Cuttings rooted in half pint mason jars on kitchen windowsills to replace older plants. Our mothers grew them in the garden, supposedly to repel the bad insects, and attract the good insects to eat the bad ones who did not take the hint. In that regard, Paris daisies were how young horticulturists learned about vegetative propagation and ‘integrated pest management’ (IPM). They were so familiar back then; but then disappeared by the 1990s.
Only recently, Brent, my colleague in the Los Angeles region who I so frequently mention (typically in a disparaging manner) found just two specimens at a nursery in Southern California, and promptly procured both. One if for his garden, and one is for mine!
It seems like not so long ago when the only African daisy that was commonly available was the trailing African daisy that makes such a nice relaxed ground cover for small spaces. The simple white flowers have navy blue centers, and are occasionally joined by mutant light purple flowers. The cultivar that blooms only in light purple was not as popular. Things have certainly changed!
African daisies, Osteospermum, have been bred and hybridized so extensively that most of the modern cultivars are not categorized by specie, so are known by their cultivar names. Most are likely related to Osteospermum ecklonis, which was the first of the shrubby specie to become popular. Although often grown as cool season annuals, African daisies are short term perennials.
Flowers can be various pastel hues of purple, pink, orange, yellow or white. Bloom can be profuse in random phases, and sporadic bloom is almost continuous between early spring and late autumn. It is only postponed by the coolest winter weather and the warmest summer weather. Mature plants can get a bit more than two feet high and wide. They want full sun and regular watering.
Most blue flowers are blushed with purple to some degree. Except for lily of the Nile, true blue flowers are quite uncommon. Even with their yellow centers, the tiny daisy flowers of blue marguerite, Felicia amelloides, seem to be too blue to be real. They are almost expected to fade to lavender. Bloom may not be as full as it was a month ago, but continues as long as the weather is warm.
Mature plants are usually less than a foot and a half tall, and not much wider, with a symmetrically rounded form. The branches are rather fragile, and can be broken by something as trivial as a clumsy cat. They really are not strong enough for bouncy dogs or children. Yet, their tiny oval leaves are just raspy enough to deter deer. Unfortunately, blue marguerite plants live only a few years.
There is some controversy about the identity of the flowers that Micky Mouse picks at the porch to present to Minnie Mouse when she answers the door. Some insist that they are Transvaal daisy, Gerbera hybrida. When they are not in black and white, the substantial daisy flowers are cartoon hues of yellow, orange, red, pink and white, sometimes with chocolatey brown or black centers.
Transvaal daisies are always available as cut flowers, but bloom best in cool spring and autumn weather in home gardens. Most garden varieties have single flowers on bare stems. Most cut flowers are semi-double. Double flowers that resemble zinnias, and spider flowers that resemble spider mums, are rare. Coarse basal foliage gets almost a foot high and a foot and a half wide.
Because the foliage is so vulnerable to snails, Transvaal daisy is usually grown in pots rather than in the ground or immobile planters. Besides, potted plants can be brought into the home or put in prominent spots while blooming, and then put out of sight between bloom. Transvaal daisy wants partial shade, regular watering and occasional feeding. It can take full sun exposure if not too hot.
Is it coincidence that the Latin name of black-eyed Susan is Rudbeckia, or was Becky rude enough to give Susan her black eye? The dark center is something that all varieties have in common, and what distinguishes them from most of the related blanket flower varieties. The daisy flowers of black-eyed Susan are traditionally yellow. Modern varieties can be orange, reddish or bronzed.
Most Black-eyed Susan are perennials that bloom through summer and as late as the first cool weather of autumn. A few are annuals that bloom in their first year only through summer. They get about three feet tall, although some can get taller, and some stay quite compact. Flowers are about three inches wide. Some varieties have even larger flowers that fold backward like coneflower.
Black-eyed Susan appreciates an open and sunny spot with somewhat rich soil and occasional watering. Deadheading keeps them tidy, and for some varieties, promotes subsequent bloom. It also inhibits self sowing where that might be a problem. Modern varieties should not become invasive even if allowed to self sow. Mature colonies can be divided for propagation every few years.