Herbaceous Ornamental of the Month - Willowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius 'First Light')
Posted: October 9, 2012
Helianthus salicifolius 'First Light' was introduced in 2002 by Blooms of Bressingham. Unlike its parent, which grows eight-feet tall and has a loose and open habit, 'First Light' is a fireplug of a plant reaching only three feet in height. As the common name suggests, the foliage of the willowleaf sunflower is narrow, linear and tightly arranged on a strongly pyramidal plant.
For optimum flowering, site in full sun and well-drained soil. Once established, perennial sunflower will tolerate periods of drought. 'First Light' is hardy to zone 6, so in some areas of Pennsylvania, locate plants in a sheltered area where they are protected from sweeping winds and fluctuating temperatures.
After most annuals and perennials have faded, 'First Light' explodes into bloom in late September and early October engulfing the plant with three-inch sunflower-like flowers. The golden-yellow ray flowers surround a chocolate-brown central eye and persist for several weeks. When in flower, the plant resembles a small Christmas tree aglow with bright yellow lights.
The showy flowers attract butterflies and if allowed to remain on the plant, seed heads add winter interest and a source of food for birds. Maintenance is minimal throughout the growing season; however, after three years plants benefit from division.