Brilliant sizzling, orange-scarlet flowers cover this vibrant ornamental plant, with velvety textured leaves and huge 7 to 9cm (3 to 4in) daisy like blooms.
Tithonia form large, but compact plants for the back of the border. The plant is multi-branched, giving multitudes of flowers per plant. Native to Mexico, where it grows tall, perhaps to 180cm (6ft) or more, but in our gardens it will only reach a respectable 90 to 120cm (3 to 4ft).
Plant behind beds or borders where their vivid flowers will stand above less boisterous plantings.
Tithonia loves the sun and is tolerant of hot summer weather and drought, It will also tolerate infertile soil and a fair amount of neglect, giving blooms from mid summer until the first frosts. They are very easy to grow and perfect for new gardeners and children.
The Mexican sunflower is one of the best flowers you can grow for attracting butterflies.
In late summer, a stand of Tithonia may attract a half dozen or more butterfly species with one or more individuals on every single blossom!
Sowing: Sow indoors in Feb to April, or directly outdoors in May
For continuity of blooms for cut flowers, sow a succession of sunflowers every fortnight for six weeks in the early part of the growing season. In a hot summer, each cycle from sowing to blooming will take about 60 days.
For early flowers, start indoors as early as February or March, to germinate in about 10 days at 60 to 65°F. Plant out in April or May. Use 7.5cm (3in) pots and a good sowing compost. Sow one seed 2.5mm (1in) deep per pot. Water and either cover with polythene or bubble plastic to retain the heat, or place pots on a heated bench or in a propagator with the temperature set at 13°C (55°F).
Remove the covers when the leaves appear. Plant seedlings outside when they are large enough to be handled and the root system is well developed. Add garden compost to the soil if it is heavy or infertile.
Plant outside as early as possible to miss heavy frosts, to germinate in about 1 to 3 weeks. Sow seed 5cm (2in) deep and spaced 45cm (18in) apart in borders. Water seedlings regularly and, when growing tall forms, feed sparingly with a liquid fertiliser when 60cm (2ft) high. Avoid splashing water or fertiliser solution on the stems or leaves.
Beware of slugs when they are still young plants and birds stealing the seeds.
Tithonia must have full sun, but it will grow in average soil with good drainage. It is one of the most heat- and drought-resistant plants, growing reasonably well in soils of low fertility. Plant in the garden after all danger of frost has passed.
Tithonia grow wide and branched, space the plants 75 to 90cm (30 to 36in) apart. Do not overwater.
Protect the plants from high winds and stake them -- this is particularly important in late summer and fall when they are tall and top-heavy. Deadheading during the summer keeps it in bloom through most of the season.
Though not immune from insect attack, it has no serious pest problems not even deer will find the hairy leaves of Tithonia worth eating!
Mexican sunflower is beautiful in cut flower arrangements, but the flower heads are borne on fragile hollow peduncles (flower stems) that must be cut carefully with a sharp knife lest they bend and collapse.
Pick flowers early in the day, but wait until the sun has dried the dew. Remove leaves that are low on the stem, leaving just two or three higher up, near the flower's face. Place the flowers in a bucket filled with water, and leave them to stand for several hours in a cool room before placing in a vase. Change the water every few days. Blooms can last up to a fortnight when kept in water.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Prairie planting, Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds or Wildflower Gardens
Native to Mexico, the genus Tithonia is made up of eleven species.
Two species, T. diversifolia and T. rotundifolia, are widely cultivated
The genus Tithonia was described by a French botanist in 1799 with the name taken from Greek mythology.
Tithonus was a much-loved by Aurora, the dawn-goddess.
It is called by the common name The Mexican sunflower as it is native to Mexico.
Of Interest: Few plants as large and spectacular as Mexican sunflower can complete two generations in a single summer. In the southern U.S., Mexican sunflower seeds planted in March or April will produce plants that flower and go to seed in June. Those seeds will fall to the ground, germinate, and produce a second generation of flowers that will mature before the first frost in October!
- Additional Information
Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 100 seeds / gram Family Asteraceae Genus Tithonia Species rotundifolia Cultivar Torch Common Name The Mexican Sunflower Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers Sizzling, orange-scarlet flowers Natural Flower Time Late summer to early autumn Height 90 to 120cm (3 to 4ft). Spread 60cm (24in) Position Full Sun preferred Soil Most garden soils, better if well drained Time to Sow Sow indoors in Feburary to April, outdoors in May Germination 5 to 21 days