Helianthus pauciflorus (Stiff Sunflower)

Plant Info
Also known as: Prairie Sunflower, Few-leaved Sunflower
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; average to dry prairies, roadsides, along railroads
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:2 to 6 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

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flowers] Yellow sunflower 2 to 3½ inches across with 10 to 25 rays (petals). The center disk is usually purplish brown, sometimes yellow. When the weather is especially dry the petals fold up lengthwise or become twisted.

[photo of bracts] The bracts are short, wide and flattened, usually with a dull point at the tip and short hairs around the edges. One plant has 1 to several flowers at the end of long, mostly naked, branching stems.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are 2 to 10 inches long and ¾ to 2¼ inches wide, typically shaped like the tip of a spear, with a very rough texture and short-stalked to stalkless. A pair of prominent lower veins run parallel to the center vein. The leaf edges have shallow, widely spaced teeth and short hairs. Color is dull gray-green, almost olive. Attachment is opposite and most leaves are in the lower part of the plant, but there may be small oval or lance-linear leaves widely spaced above the midpoint, which may be alternately attached. The stem is bristly and turns reddish brown with age.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

The center disk forms a head of dry seed, each nearly ¼ inch long and without a tuft of hairs but with 2 bristly scales at the tip.


Stiff Sunflower, formerly known by synonym Helianthus rigidus, is distinguished from other Minnesota native sunflowers by its mostly opposite, nearly stalkless, gray-green leaves, most of which are below the midpoint of the plant, plus flowers with a (usually) purplish brown center disk and flattened bracts with a dull point at the tip. It is one of the first sunflowers to bloom in summer. There are 2 recognized subspecies, both of which have widely overlapping ranges and both of which are found in Minnesota: subsp. pauciflorus, 2½ to 6 feet tall, which has leaves up to 10 inches long and usually has alternate stem leaves above the midpoint that have a long taper to a pointed tip, and subsp. subrhomboideus, 2 to 4 feet tall, which leaves only up to 5 inches long and has opposite leaves above the midpoint.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County, and Hastings Sand Coulee SNA, Dakota County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Sherburne County, and Chippewa Prairie Preserve, Swift County.


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

Posted by: Pat - Meeker co
on: 2010-11-06 10:23:42

I found these growing this summer in the prairie along the railroad track. I was quite taken with them since they stand alone with no leaves along the stem.

Posted by: Rick - Albert Lea (Freeborn County)
on: 2015-06-13 09:41:29

I found a few of these native sunflowers mixed in my many goose head Loosestrife plants. I took them into our local Al Lea Seed House to be identified. I am going to allow them to continue to grow!!

Posted by: Kenny h - East of rose creek on shooting star trailit
on: 2017-09-14 19:46:28

It has to be stiff sunflower...brown center disk...all others in Mower county have yellow center disks...but there was an equal amount of leaves on the top 1/2 of the plant...whats that all about???

Posted by: Gary - Carlton County
on: 2020-08-18 09:06:54

On the Munger Trail in Moose Lake.

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