Helianthus salicifolius 'First Light'
Common Name: willow-leaved sunflower 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Asteraceae
Zone: 6 to 9
Height: 3.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 4.00 feet
Bloom Time: September to October
Bloom Description: Yellow rays with brown center disk
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Tolerate: Deer, Clay Soil


Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun. Tolerant of wide range of soil conditions. If grown in part shade, plants tend to be taller and more open, produce fewer flowers and require support. Spreads over time by creeping rhizomes to form dense colonies. Divide every 3-4 years to control spread and maintain vigor.

'First Light' is best planted in a sheltered location in the St. Louis area where it may not be reliably winter hardy. Any seeds produced by this cultivar will reportedly be sterile.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Helianthus salicifolius , commonly called willow-leaved sunflower, is a Missouri native plant that occurs in unglaciated western Missouri prairie areas south of the Missouri River. Features clusters (branched panicles) of 2-2.5" wide sunflowers with bright yellow rays and dark brown center disks atop rigid, whitish-green stems typically growing 5-6' (less frequently to 8') tall. Narrow, drooping, willow-like, pale green leaves (5-7"). Attractive to butterflies and other insect pollinators. Blooms from late summer to fall. Good fresh cut flower.

Genus name comes from the Greek words helios meaning sun and anthos meaning flower.

Specific epithet means with leaves like Salix (willow).

‘First Light’ produces a clump of foliage to 44” tall. Foliage is covered in fall (September–October) with a profuse bloom of 2.5-3” diameter sunflowers with golden yellow rays and brown center disks. Narrow, hairy, linear leaves (to 4” long). Parents of this patented cultivar are unpatented H. salicifolia cultivars ‘Golden Pyramid’ and ‘Autumn Glory’. An introduction of Blooms of Bressingham. U.S. Plant Patent #13,150 issued October 29, 2002.


Sunflowers are generally susceptible to rust, leaf fungal spots and powdery mildew. Caterpillars and beetles may chew on the foliage. Watch for aphids. Taller plants may need staking. Deer tend to avoid this plant.


Attractive foliage and profuse late summer to fall bloom make this an excellent addition to the border background, wild or native plant garden, or naturalized planting.