Heliopsis helianthoides (Smooth Oxeye)

Plant Info
Also known as: Common Ox-eye, False Sunflower, Sunflower Heliopsis
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; prairies, along roads, railroads, edges of woods, thickets
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:2 to 6 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flowers] 1 to 15 stalked flowers in a loose cluster at the top of the plant. Flowers are 1½ to 3½ inches across, with 10 to 18 pale yellow to orange-yellow petals (ray flowers) and a golden yellow to brownish cone-shaped center disk.

[photo of bract] There are 2 layers of hairy, appressed to spreading bracts surrounding the base of the flower, though it may appear to be a single row. The bracts alternate, the inner bracts short with pointed tips and the outer longer and broader, usually with rounded tips though they may be pointed. Flower stalks are green and rough-hairy.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are up to 4½ inches long and 3 inches wide, somewhat egg-shaped, tapering to a pointed tip, with coarsely toothed to serrated edges and a leaf stalk up to about 1 inch long. The color ranges from bright green to dark green. The texture is very rough and the edges can be wavy. Stems are erect, typically branched and rough from short hairs..

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

The center disk becomes a head of dark seeds that lack tufts of hair.


The easiest way to identify this plant is by the bracts: look for the alternating long and short bracts. Most references describe this plant as growing up to 5 feet tall but I've come across some closer to 6 feet tall, though that is uncommon. Smooth Oxeye is not a true sunflower. The ray flowers of true sunflowers are sterile, but are fertile in this plant. Smooth Oxeye has a long blooming period, with the first blooms appearing by mid-June and the last dying out around the end of September. It grows in dry prairie as well as moister soils at woodland or wetland edges; plants are more robust in moister conditions than dry. USDA lists 4 varieties of Heliopsis helianthoides, though only 2 are recognized by Flora of North America: var. helianthoides with smoother leaves found east of the Mississippi River, and var. scabra with rough-textured leaves found in the Midwest, including Minnesota, and west of the Mississippi.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Glacial Lakes State Park, Pope County.


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

Posted by: Bonnie - Apple Valley
on: 2012-08-30 17:35:57

Have these growing wild in my perennial garden - Summer 2012. Not sure how they seeded, but they've added some bright August color in my yard!

Posted by: Jill - Itasca County
on: 2013-08-08 06:28:27

While not reported on the USDA map to be found in Itasca County, we have seen these in the northeastern corner of the county.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-08-08 08:03:15

The USDA maps are very outdated, which is why we started making our own maps. Eventually we'll have them prepared for all species profiles on this web site.

Posted by: Fred S - North of Grand Rapids 12 miles
on: 2017-08-14 14:57:27

I seeded these next to cabin; they are doing well. I hope to spread them around the area.

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