Helianthus petiolaris (Prairie Sunflower)

Plant Info
Also known as: Plains Sunflower
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:sun; dry sandy soil, prairies, along roads
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:1 to 4 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flowers] Flower is 1½ to 3 inches across, 12 to 25 yellow rays (petals) and a dark brown center disk ½ to 1 inch in diameter. A plant has 1 to several flowers, each at the end of a 1½ to 6 inch long stalk.

[photo of bracts] The bracts are flat, wide at the base tapering to sharply pointed tips, with short bristly hairs.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are rather variable—they may be triangular, oval, or shaped like the head of a spear. All leaves have a rough texture and somewhat wavy edges; the color is a dull green, sometimes bluish-green. There are 2 prominent lower veins that run parallel to the main center vein. There may be a few shallow teeth along the edge, but leaves are mostly toothless. The leaf size is variable depending on the shape. Elongated spear-shapes may be up to 6 inches long and 1 inch wide. Triangular leaves are up to 3½ inches long and 2 inches wide. Leaf stalks are ¾ to 1½ inches long, longer towards the base of the plant, becoming shorter as leaves ascend the stem. Stems are typically branched, and have a rough texture.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] The center disk forms a head of ¼-inch brown seeds. Seeds lack a tuft of hairs but have 2 bristly scales at the tip.


Prairie Sunflower can grow in clumps that make it look like a small bush, but it is not unusual to see single plants scattered around. It is not uncommon along sandy or gravelly roadsides in mid to late summer. While some references put the plant height at up to 6 feet, I have never seen it more than about 2 feet tall in Minnesota. Prairie Sunflower is distinguished from other MN native sunflowers by its alternate, mostly toothless, often triangular leaves and flowers with a brown, larger than average center disk. The plant most closely resembles Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) but in miniature. There are 2 (possibly 3) recognized subspecies: subsp. fallax, restricted to a few states in the southwest US, and subsp. petiolaris, whose range covers much of North America and is present in Minnesota.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Landscape Alternatives
  • ReWild Native Gardens
  • Out Back Nursery
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Kathryn Buendgen - Morris, MN
on: 2018-08-02 13:32:13

This lovely prairie sunflower planted itself in my back yard nectar garden. This is the first year it has showed up. This lovely plant has been a welcome addition to the other perennials in my garden. This morning I spotted a yellow finch and monarch enjoying its flowers. I hope it spreads out as I would love to transplant some to another area of my garden.

Posted by: Shira M Levin - Minneapolis
on: 2021-08-08 21:40:59

I have never seen Prairie Sunflower s before today Aug. 8, 2021. I went to a meeting at my synagogue to learn about Native Plants. The instructor had brought trays with native plants in them including the Prairie Sunflower. We were given the opportunity to take home to plant what plants we wanted. I brought home a Prairie Sunflower plant home.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.