Helianthus mollis

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: ashy sunflower 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Asteraceae
Native Range: Central and eastern North America
Zone: 4 to 9
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to September
Bloom Description: Yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Tolerate: Drought, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil


Easily grown in average, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates some light shade. Plants generally tolerate a wide variety of soils, including average, sandy and poor rocky soils, as long as drainage is good. Avoid clay soils. Plant seeds in the garden after last spring frost date. Best to site plants in locations sheltered from strong winds. Plant foliage often depreciates as the summer progresses. Removal of browned and tattered seed heads, foliage and plant stalks from the garden after bloom may improve the appearance of the landscape, but often becomes a great disappointment to local bird populations (particularly goldfinches) which love to feed on the seeds. If the plants must come down, consider saving the seed heads for feeding the birds in winter. Plants will spread in the garden by rhizomes and self-seeding to form colonies.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Helianthus mollis, commonly called ashy sunflower, hairy sunflower or downy sunflower, is a rhizomatous perennial sunflower of the aster family that typically grows to 2-4’ tall. It is native to dry prairies, dry open woods, rocky glades, fields, thickets, roadsides, and railroad right-of-ways from Ohio to Wisconsin south to Texas and Georgia.

Conspicuously pubescent gray-green leaves (to 6” long) and stems project a grayish ash-like foliage color, thus giving rise to the common name of ashy sunflower. Stems are clad with coarse, stalkless or stem-clasping, broad oval leaves (to 6” long) with rounded to cordate bases. Flowers develop singly from the upper stems, with each flower (to 4” diameter) having 15-30 showy petal-like yellow rays surrounding a central disk (to 1” diameter) of tiny darker yellow disk florets. Flowers bloom in mid-season (July-September). Plants spread into broad clumps that are often difficult to properly maintain in a formal border.

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

Specific epithet from Latin means soft in reference to the downy plant hairs.

Flower heads tend to follow the path of the sun each day from morning to night, hence the common name of sunflower.


Rust, leaf fungal spots and powdery mildew are somewhat common. Caterpillars and beetles often chew on the foliage. May need staking, particularly if grown in exposed locations.


Small groups or mass. Borders, cottage gardens, bird gardens, butterfly gardens, wildflower or native plant gardens, and meadows. Will thrive in sunny areas. Some birds love to eat seeds directly from the seedheads. Perhaps best in naturalized areas where it can spread to form large colonies as opposed to the formality of typical borders.