General: Aster Family (Asteraceae). This native perennial has a stout, rhizomatous root system. It grows from 0.9 m to 2.5 m tall with stems occurring singly or in clusters. The central stem is stout, light green to light red, and covered with short, dense white hairs. Leaves are alternate, up to 30 cm long and 5 cm wide, sessile, narrowly lance-shaped, and folded upward from the central vein. Leaf surfaces are covered with white hairs; margins are smooth or loosely toothed. Short inflorescence stalks emerge from the leaf axils, bearing one composite flower head and one to two leaves. Each inflorescence has two pale green bracts at its base, is 5 to 7 cm in diameter, and has 20 to 40 yellow ray flowers and many yellow disc flowers. Flowering occurs in September and early October. Fruits are achenes that ripen in October and November and are wind or animal dispersed.
The characteristic that distinguishes Maximilian sunflower from other Helianthus species is the grayish appearance given off by dense white hairs on the plant.
Distribution: Maximilian sunflower is native to the central United States, from Ontario, Michigan, and Ohio, west to Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado and south to Texas. It may be sparsely introduced east and west of its native range. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site (http://plants.usda.gov).
Habitat: Maximilian sunflower occurs on rocky upland and loess hill prairies, rocky ledges, and along railways, roadsides, fences, and other disturbed areas. In drier regions, it is found along streams and near wetter areas.
In mixed-grass prairies, it is associated with bluestem, switchgrass, Russian thistle, silverberry, milkweed, and snowberry species. In tallgrass prairies, it is associated with big bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, heath aster, ironweed, and Canada goldenrod. In floodplain tallgrass prairies, it is associated with prairie cordgrass, spikesedge, Indian grass, big bluestem, switchgrass, compass plant, milkweed, and annual sunflower.
Helianthus dalyi, Helianthus maximilianii, Maximillian sunflower, Maximilian’s sunflower, Michaelmas-daisy.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
. It is found from Saskatchewan and Manitoba south to Missouri and
Texas [17,18,22]. It has been sparingly introduced in the Pacific
Northwest , California , and east to the Atlantic states .
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
Occurrence in North America
KY ME MA MI MN MO MT NE NM NC
ND OH OK SD TN TX UT WI WY AB
BC MB SK MEXICO
The USDA hardiness zones for Maximilian sunflower are 3 to 9. Although it can grow in a variety of conditions, it prefers moist clay-like soils, soil depths of 50 cm or more, 250 to 1,270 mm annual precipitation, gentle slopes, and full sun. Soil, moisture, and topography can be variable, but Maximilian sunflower will not tolerate shade. It tends to grow very tall in moist rich soil and may become top-heavy when in bloom. Growth is poor on gravel, dense clay, or saline soils.
Maximilian sunflower plants are allelopathic. They produce chemicals that hinder the growth of neighboring plants. These chemicals are not harmful to livestock and wildlife.
Maximilian sunflower is a warm-season, bunching, perennial native forb
. It grows 1.6 to 8.2 feet (0.5-2.5 m) tall , with a spread of
1 to 3 feet (0.3-0.9 m) . Stems grow singly or clustered from short
rhizomes . The flowers occur in long, raceme-like inflorescences
. The floral head is 1.5 to 3 inches (4-8 cm) wide . The fruit
is an achene 0.12 to 0.16 (3-4 mm) long . Maximilian sunflower has
short, thick, rhizomatous rootstocks  with crown-buds .
Catalog Number: US 494999
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Card file verified by examination of alleged type specimen
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): N. L. Britton
Year Collected: 1898
Locality: Sag Harbor., New York, United States, North America
- Type fragment: Britton, N. L. 1901. J. New York Bot. Gard. 2: 89.
sites . It is best adapted to deep, sandy to clayey loam upland
soils of subhumid prairies . Growth is poor on gravel and dense
clay, fair on sand and clay, and good on sandy to clayey loam.
Maximilian sunflower grows poorly on saline soils. Its optimum soil
depth is 20 inches (50 cm) or more. It is more common on heavier soils
. It is also found on waste ground, roadsides, pastures , fence
rows , riverbanks , and other disturbed areas .
Maximilian sunflower generally occurs in areas with 10 to 50 inches
(250-1270 mm) annual precipitation , but it can occur on lowlands
with better moisture conditions in the semiaric zones .
Maximilian sunflower exhibits good growth on gentle slopes and poor
growth on moderate and steep slopes .
Maximilian sunflower occurs at the following elevations :
Elevation (feet) Elevation (m)
CO 3,500-7,000 1,067-2,134
MT 2,300-3,900 700-1,190
WY 3,600-6,000 1,100-1,830
Key Plant Community Associations
Associates of Maximilian sunflower vary with location, since this
species has a wide ecological amplitude and it occurs in a variety of
Associates of Maximilian sunflower in mixed-grass prairie south of Lake
Manitoba in Canada include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium),
big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii), alkali muhly
(Muhlenbergia asperifolia), common witchgrass (Panicum capillare),
Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), Russian thistle (Salsola kali),
silverberry (Eleagnus commutata), showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa),
and western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis) .
Associates of Maximilian sunflower in undisturbed tallgrass prairie on
Mormon Island on the Platte River in Nebraska include the dominant big
bluestem, and lesser components switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Indian
grass (Sorghastrum nutans), heath aster (Aster ericoides), western
ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), and Canada goldenrod (Solidago
Associates of Maximilian sunflower in floodplain tallgrass prairie in a
wetlands area in Kansas include prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata),
ovoid spikesedge (Eleocharis obtusa), Indian grass (Sorgastrum nutans),
big bluestem, switchgrass, sedge (Carex frankii), common sunflower
(Helianthus annuus), compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), hemp dogbane
(Apocynum cannabinum), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and
thickspike gayfeather (Liatris pycnostachya) .
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K023 Juniper - pinyon woodland
K037 Mountain-mahogany - oak scrub
K056 Wheatgrass - needlegrass shrubsteppe
K064 Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass
K065 Grama - buffalograss
K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass
K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass
K068 Wheatgrass - grama - buffalograss
K069 Bluestem - grama prairie
K070 Sandsage - bluestem prairie
K074 Bluestem prairie
K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie
K076 Blackland prairie
K081 Oak savanna
K084 Cross Timbers
K098 Northern floodplain forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
More info for the term: shrub
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon - juniper
FRES38 Plains grasslands
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
62 Silver maple - American elm
67 Shin (Mohrs) oak
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine
239 Pinyon - juniper
241 Western live oak
In early winter, rake Maximilian sunflower seeds into loose topsoil and cover with 0.25 to 0.5 inch of soil or mulch. A long cold period is required before germination. The average number of seeds per pound varies by location. The South Dakota Plant Materials Center has listed 250,000 seeds per pound while both the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Texas A&M University report 182,000 seeds per pound. The appropriate seeding rate for pure Maximilian sunflower stands is 5 pounds per acre, allowing space between germinated plants.
If used as part of a prairie seed mixture, Maximilian sunflower seeds should be included at a rate of 0.1 to 0.25 pound per acre. Optimal seeding times are November to May in the central Great Plains and January to March in the southern Great Plains. In Nebraska, Maximilian sunflower established best when weeds were controlled mechanically. Seedling vigor is good.
Growth occurs in late spring and summer with some flowering by the end of the first season. Most Maximilian sunflower plants are not fully developed until the second season. Plants primarily spread by rhizomes after establishment.
Fire Management Considerations
In southwestern Minnesota, a degraded prairie that had been invaded by
shrubs and cool-season grasses was burned each spring from 1983 to 1987.
Native warm-season grasses and forbs, including Maximilian sunflower,
increased in dominance, and the prairie became more open each year.
Maximilian sunflower showed increased vigor, and new individuals were
In the High and Rolling Plains of Texas, prescribed fire is used every 3
to 5 years to maintain optimum quail habitat in the grass stands where
Maximilian sunflower occurs .
In the Northern Great Plains, the best increases in Maximilian sunflower
vigor, canopy cover, and seed production are obtained with late spring
(May-June) fires .
Plant Response to Fire
Fire usually enhances Maximilian sunflower, probably by removing litter,
allowing more sunlight to reach the soil surface, and reducing
Maximilian sunflower was burned in prescribed fires in May, 1970 and
May, 1971 in east-central North Dakota. It increased in cover more than
100 percent within the first 2 postfire years .
When dead vegetation mulch was burned in North Dakota in 1968 and 1969,
Maximilian sunflower and other plants grew taller, stiffer, and seeded
more vigorously .
Tallgrass prairie sites containing Maximilian sunflower in northwestern
Minnesota were subjected to prescribed fire in early May, 1972. The
removal of litter by fire varied with the site. In undisturbed prairie
on a mesic site, flowering decreased significantly following fire. On a
wet-mesic site in highly disturbed prairie, there was a slight,
nonsignificant decrease in flowering. On a wet swale in undisturbed
prairie, there was a very significant increase in flowering .
Immediate Effect of Fire
season. It survives by sprouting from persistent rhizomes [17,44].
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
can reproduce by rhizomes . It produces numerous, small,
wind-dispersed seeds which germinate over a wide range of temperature
and moisture regimes  and can establish on burned sites. Maximilian
sunflower thrives in the open, sunny conditions created by fire .
Maximilian sunflower seeds have been found in the seedbank , and it
may be an initial on-site colonizer, but no information was available on
seed tolerance to heat or length of seed viability in the seedbank.
It also spreads vegetatively by rhizomes, and can form large colonies
Maximilian sunflower cultivar "Aztec" seeds germinate within 1 to 3
weeks with a germination temperature regime of 12 hours each day at 86
degrees Fahrenheit (30 deg C) or lower . With other seed sources,
germination can occur in 7 to 14 days, but nearly half can be dormant.
Seedling vigor is good .
Maximilian sunflower seeds from the soilbank at 22 typical habitats in
Kansas were collected in November, 1945, and stored in cool, dry
conditions until February, 1946. Subsequent germination tests showed
two major periods of germination: one between days 6 and 25, and another
between days 46 and 55 .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Life History and Behavior
Maximilian sunflower seeds germinate best when soil is warm ,
generally in May throughout much of the area in which it occurs. Stands
develop rather rapidly from seed. Growth occurs in late spring and
summer , with some flowering possible by the end of the first
growing season in the South. However, plants are not usually fully
developed until the second year . Maximilian sunflower dies back to
the ground each year, and regenerates new growth from rhizomes or
root crown buds . Plants continue to spread by rhizomes after
Maximilian sunflower flowering times are:
Begin Peak End
Flowering Flowering Flowering
CO June August September 
IL July ---- August 
KS August September October 
MT July July September 
NC September ---- October 
ND July August September 
SD July ---- September 
WY July July September 
Great Plains August ---- October 
New England August ---- September 
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Helianthus maximilianii
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Helianthus maximiliani
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Planting for wildlife: Maximilian sunflower has been planted for cover
and as a food source for scaled quail, northern bobwhites, and mourning
doves in the High and Rolling Plains of Texas . It is a good
addition to a mix of shrubs, forbs, and grasses for use as wildlife
Planting for prairie establishment: Due to its aggressive spreading,
Maximilian sunflower should be lightly seeded in prairie grass mixtures.
Optimal seeding times are November to May in the Central Great Plains,
and January to March in the Southern Great Plains. Early planting may
aid in breaking seed dormancy . Maximilian sunflower requires low
to moderate moisture and full sun . It was included in a mix of
native prairie grasses and forbs used to establish prairie on previously
cultivated fields in eastern Nebraska from 1975 to 1978. It proved to
be susceptible to herbicides, and established best when mechanical means
were used to control weeds .
When buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) in Minnesota was removed by cutting
and stump treatment with herbicide in 1985, Maximilian sunflower, which
had not been present, germinated in treated areas within 3 months of
initial treatment .
Maximilian sunflower was evaluated and grown at the Soil Conservation
Service Plant Materials Center in Kansas. Planting procedures are
described . Maximilian sunflower seed accessions are held at
the wild sunflower (Helianthus spp.) nursery of the Plant Introduction
Station in Ames, Iowa. The collection can be used for problems in
prairie establishment or restoration .
Grazing: Maximilian sunflower is not common on closely grazed ranges.
Seedlings should be protected from close use and trampling. Moderate
grazing and periodic deferment of grazing during the growing season
enhance the persistance of Maxmimilan sunflower .
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
The USDA NRCS Plant Materials Center has released Maximilian sunflower cultivars ‘Aztec’ and ‘Prairie Gold’ for conservation use. ‘Aztec’ was released for the purposes of wildlife food, livestock forage cover, natural hedges, screens, filterstrips, and as ornamental landscape plants. ‘Prairie Gold’ was released for critical area reseeding and wildlife food plantings. These plant materials are readily available from commercial sources.
Seeds are ready for collection in late October and November. They are moist stratified for 56 days. Germination occurs at an alternating cycle of 30oC daytime and 15oC nighttime temperatures. The optimum soil temperature for germination is 20oC to 30oC. Seventy percent of seeds will germinate in 7 to 25 days.
One-year-old plants sprout new shoots that can be dug up and cut from the parent plant. Division and transplantation should take place in February or March.
Maximilian sunflower plants growing on rich, fertile sites will grow tall and spindly. Weak stems will cause the plants to fall and can be staked to remain upright. Older stems can be mechanically cut back at the end of the season to make room for new sprouts.
Maximilian sunflower exhibits fire tolerance in its dormant stage. Seedlings will emerge on open, post-burned sites from the underground seedbank and rhizomes. Following fire in North Dakota, Maximilian sunflower grew taller, stiffer, and seeded more vigorously. Research suggests that plant performance increases following fire in disturbed, invaded areas but not on undisturbed areas. Fire removes competition and opens up the canopy for Maximilian sunflower in the disturbed areas.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
Maximilian sunflower roots can be prepared and eaten like those of
Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus). Native American tribes of
the Great Plains ate them raw, boiled, or roasted .
Maximilian sunflower was evaluated as a potential source of industrial
raw materials. Since the natural rubbers present are of low molecular
weight, they may have commercial applications .
Maximilian sunflower is used as a garden ornamental .
The cover value of Maximilian sunflower for several species of wildlife
in some western states is as follows :
Elk ---- poor
Mule deer fair poor
White-tailed deer fair poor
Pronghorn fair poor
Upland game birds fair ----
Waterfowl poor ----
Small nongame birds fair ----
Maximilian sunflower is a palatable livestock forage of good quality,
, and is also used by deer . It remains green after
many other forbs have matured , but little use is made of the
herbage after frost . The seeds are choice food for quail and
dove , and are eaten by many other birds .
Maximilian sunflower palatability for livestock in several western
states is as follows :
CO MT ND
Cattle fair fair good
Sheep fair fair fair
Horses fair ---- good
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Maximilian sunflower is part of the tall, thick, ungrazed cover in North
Dakota that ducks and pheasants seek out for nesting. It also provides
winter cover and its seeds are an important winter food .
In Montana, Maximilian sunflower is rated as valuable fall forage for
Rocky Mountain elk .
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
Plant Materials Center in Kansas to be appropriate for use in
rehabilitation of degraded sites and for visual enhancement. In field
tests it showed excellent vigor .
Maximilian sunflower has been used successfully for revegetation of coal
minespoils in Kansas. It established with native grasses on abandoned
spoils graded to rolling topography, limed, and disced .
The Soil Conservation Service recommends Maximilian sunflower cultivar
"Aztec" for use in rehabilitation in southern Oklahoma, all of Texas
except the Trans-Pecos region, and eastward. The cultivar "Prairie
Gold" has greater cold tolerance, and can be used for revegetation
farther north .
Maximilian sunflower is suggested for use on roadsides, in parks, for
wildlife habitat, and in establishing prairies .
is poor .
The food value of Maximilian sunflower for several species of wildlife
in some western states is as follows :
CO MT ND WY
Elk ---- poor ---- good
Mule deer ---- poor good poor
White-tailed deer ---- ---- good poor
Pronghorn poor ---- good ----
Upland game birds ---- ---- fair ----
Waterfowl ---- ---- poor ----
Small nongame birds ---- ---- good ----
Erosion control: Maximilian sunflower has a perennial root crown and rhizomatous root system. Annual stems are produced from underground stems. This growth pattern allows Maximilian sunflower to spread and form dense plant clusters, reinforcing soil and preventing erosion.
Ethnobotanic: Native Americans used parts of this plant as sources of food, oil, dye, and thread. Pioneers planted Maximilian sunflowers near their homes to repel mosquitoes and used the blossoms in bathwater to relieve arthritis pain. Sunflower seeds are eaten as snack items and sprinkled on salads and other foods.
Industrial products: The natural rubber present in Maximilian sunflower qualifies the plant as a potential source of industrial raw materials.
Livestock: Although the protein value of Maximilian sunflower is poor, it is a palatable livestock forage species. It remains green late into the fall and is consumed until the first frost makes it less flavorful. It is plentiful on ranges that are not closely grazed.
Moderate grazing can increase the presence of Maximilian sunflower.
Ornamental: The bright yellow flowers of Maximilian sunflower make it a popular choice for use in native gardens. It can be utilized as a hedge or natural screen because of its height.
Restoration: Maximilian sunflower is used as a conservation planting for habitat development, prairie restoration and landscaping, and range and pasture maintenance. It can be used in filterstrip plantings. It has been used with native grasses in Kansas to revegetate coalmine spoils.
Wildlife: Butterflies, beetles, and long- and short-tongued bees consume the nectar or pollen produced the flowers of Maximilian sunflower. Butterfly caterpillars feed on the foliage while moth caterpillars bore through the stems. Upland game birds, small non-game birds, and some waterfowl consume its seeds. Rabbits and groundhogs feed on young plants while elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and pronghorn antelope browse and graze older plants. It has poor nutritional value for these species. Habitat and cover are provided to birds and small mammals by individual plant clusters and dense colonies formed with other shrub-like plants.
Helianthus maximiliani (also, H. maximilianii) is a species of sunflower known by the common name Maximilian sunflower.
This sunflower is named for Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, who encountered it on his travels in North America.
Native to much of the eastern half of North America, it is found in parts of the western half as an introduced species. The plant thrives in a number of ecosystems, particularly across the plains in central Canada and the United States. It is also cultivated as an ornamental.
A branching perennial herb, growing from a stout rhizome and reaches heights from one half to three meters. The slender, tall, erect stems and alternately-arranged leaves are covered in rough hairs.
The lance-shaped leaves are narrow, pointed, folded down the midvein, and up to 30 centimeters long on large plants.
The flower heads are surrounded at the base by pointed green phyllaries which often stick straight out and curl at the tips. The center is filled with yellow tipped brown disc florets and the circumference is lined with bright yellow ray florets 2 to 4 centimeters long.
The plant reproduces by seed and by vegetative sprouting from the rhizome.
The thick rhizome is edible and provided a food similar to the Jerusalem artichoke for Native American groups such as the Sioux. The flower heads are attractive to insects and the fruits are eaten by birds.
The Land Institute, a perennial agriculture research center located in Salina, Kansas, run by Wes Jackson is experimenting with this species to create a perennial oilseed grain crop that does not necessitate replanting each season.
Names and Taxonomy
Helianthus maximiliani Schrad. [1,16,18,33]. It is a member of the
sunflower family (Asteraceae). There are no recognized subspecies,
varieties, or forms.
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