Black-Eyed Susans – Rudbeckia hirta – is one of America’s favorite wildflowers. So easy to identify by appearance, these flowers have a signature look of bright yellow petals and a dark brown seeded center.
Black-Eyed Susans have a romantic history that’s a bit loose in origins, resulting in a Black Eyed Susan meaning of Justice. This flower species grow throughout the countryside of America and Canada, found in the wild and growing domesticated.
Overview of a Black-Eyed Susan
Black-Eyed Susans are most known for their striking yellow petals and rich, dark middle. These flowers share similarities with the beloved Daisy, reaching heights up to three feet tall, with leaves that can get up to 6” and 8” long stalks.
These flowers are perennials that bloom throughout summer and often into early autumn. In April of 1918, the state of Maryland adopted the Black-Eyed Susan as the state flower. Susans are survivers – pioneer plants – often the first sign of growth after natural disasters or fires.
Black-Eyed Susans have been noted throughout history, dating back to a popular John Gay (b:1685-d:1732) poem. “Black-Eyed Susan” is an Old English piece from the post-Elizabethan era that brings to life the original lady for whom these beautiful flowers got their name.
This poem recorded the journey of Miss Black-Eyed Susan, a woman with eyes blackened from crying. She boarded a fleet looking for her love, whom she called “Sweet William.” William was indeed on board and rushed to wish his love farewell before sailing away to battle the unknown dangers of the New World.
This North-American native flower first grew abundantly in the Great Plains, although English colonists like the writer of this poem first encountered it along the East Coast. This beauty in the colonial continent could be why the Black-Eyed Susans have been the state flower of Maryland since 1918.
In the 1700s, this flower traveled to Europe, where they were later named Rudbeckia Hirta by botanist Carl Linnaeus. The inspiration for the scientific name came from Linnaeus’ mentor, Olaf Rudbeck.
The scientific name of Black-Eyed Susans is Rudbeckia Hirt. Translated, hirt means hairy and rough, which describes the conical seeded center. Other names include:
- Gloriosa daisy
- Indian summer
- Brown-eyed Susan
- Poor-land daisy
- Yellow Daisy
- English bull’s eye
- Brown betty
- Golden Jerusalem
- Yellow ox-eye Daisy
- Blackeyed Susan
- black-eyed Susan
Leaves, Flowers & Seeds
The name “Black-Eyed Susans” is deceptively inaccurate in describing the appearance of these flowers. The eye or central seed cone – florets – is not black but brown in diameter from 12 to 22 cm with 1/16” long plumeless copper or brown seeds with an elliptical shape and four-sided achenes.
You can identify these flowers, not just from their center but also from petal shape and pattern. The flowers have 8 to 16 florets (5 to 10mm wide and 15 to 45 mm long). The majority of petals are shades of yellow to orange. However, you can also find variations of Black-Eyes in shades of purple or red.
The hairy lanceolate or ovate leaves can grow from 5 to 17.5 cm in length, with the lower leaves often thinning into stalks.
How to Plant Black-Eyed Susans
Your flowers will grow the best when planted in full sun in hardiness zones 3 through 9. However, these durable blooms can also sustain healthy growth in partial shade.
Black-Eyed Susans are tolerant of most types of soil. But it’s best to add organic matter to sandy soil that dries quickly to help retain moisture. You’ll get the best results in moist soil that can hold water.
When choosing a site for your Susans, you’ll want to allow at least 18” of space between flowers for sufficient room to grow. You also need one to two feet of clearance for height, which can take one to two years to reach.
Growing your flowers from seeds requires sprinkling the seeds onto a seed starting mix roughly six weeks before the last frost of the season. Leave them uncovered in a sunny window, so they can absorb light to germinate.
Once the threat of frost is over, transfer your seeds outdoors as soon as possible. The peak growth period is March to May, for a growth period of July to September. The ground temperature should be 70°.
You’ll need to pick a plant location and clear the area of all weeds. After loosening the dirt, dig a hole at least 3” bigger than the plant.
Put your sprout inside the hole, fill it back in with the dirt, tamp it down, then give it a healthy dose of water to encourage the roots to anchor.
How to Care for the Black Eyed Susan
Perhaps one of the most common reasons for the huge popularity of the Black-Eyed Susan is its easy maintenance and care.
Susans are drought tolerant and can self-seed. So, once planted, each flower can self-seed, reducing the work you need to do to keep them returning each year.
It may be necessary to deadhead your flowers to remove dead bulbs. Doing so will help your plants grow sturdier and produce more blooms. Deadheading also prevents the seeds from spreading.
It’s crucial to use sharpened clippers to keep the stems from crushing when cutting. Opened cuts allow water to flow through, keeping the blooms fresh for up to a week or longer in a vase.
You’ll need to make the cut at a sharp angle and place them into water immediately. The water level should be halfway up the stem. And you should remove any leaves that would rest under the water to avoid rotting.
Finally, you need to change the water in the vase every two days, replacing your cuts in the freshwater as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, cut Susans not put in water will close up.
Your vase will work in bright rooms but avoid direct sunlight and nearby fruits, which produce ethylene gas, which is toxic to flowers.
Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For
These golden cornflowers are a popular attractant to butterflies, bees, and deer. However, once they have established growth, these flowers are resistant to deer.
They are more vulnerable to aphids and diseases. Powdery mildew is the most significant risk and affects flowers in humid conditions. You’ll notice leaves falling off after yellowing.
Other potential disease risks include fungal and bacterial leaf spots, stem rot, viruses, rusts, aster yellows, verticillium wilt, and septoria leaf spot.
What Is the Black Eyed Susan Meaning?
Black-Eyed Susans are most known for meaning Justice. But these flowers can also mean motivation or encouragement.
What Do Black Eyed Susans Symbolize?
The most common symbolism of Black-Eyed Susans is associated with Justice. Both Justice and the color yellow are symbolic of positive change and motivation.
There are also symbols tying Black-Eyed Susans to childhood and the joys of having an overactive imagination and a sense of awe and innocence.
The cultural symbolism of Black-Eyed Susans dates back to the time of Native Americans. They used these flowers for medicinal purposes. The roots created teas and baths, which many herbalists still use.
The Black-Eyed Susan Award is a prominent student choice literary award given in Maryland to promote book fandom and literacy.
Black Eyed Susan Varieties and Cultivars
You can find Black-Eyed Susans growing abundantly throughout America and Canada, dotting countrysides, meadows, and desolate urban streets.
There are four variations of Black-Eyed Susans that grow in North America – Rudbeckia hirta var:
Black-Eyed Susans belong to the Asteraceae family. Other species include daisies, asters, and sunflowers. Family traits include a seeded core surrounded by yellow petals.
You can also find multiple hybrids, including Irish Eyes, Toto, Indian Summer, Moreno, Double Gold, and Prairie Sun.
When Should You Give Someone a Black Eyed Susan?
A thoughtful event for gifting a Black-Eyed Susan is for new residents moving to Maryland. But you can also give them to someone who’s recently moved to America or Canada.
These flowers are a popular choice for giving to family members visiting from another country. But it’s also a safe decor for any occasion if provided during the growth season of mid-summer to early autumn.
Black-Eyed Susans look fantastic in bouquets, gift baskets, or floral arrangements. Give them as a gift for celebrations, birthdays, Thank You, or anniversaries.
You can also use Black-Eyed Susans to accompany purple flowers and perennial grass. You can get an incredible contrast with yellow and purple.
Black-Eyed Susans are a classic staple growing all across America and Canada. These golden flowers with a dark center and daisy-like petals symbolize Justice, resilience, and survival. Easy to grow and maintain, these coneflowers can look excellent growing in your garden or as cuts in vases throughout your house.