Monday, March 03, 2008

Rudbeckia maxima: a Plant for Wet Clay and Sun

Extraordinarily large leaves of glaucous blue, towering spires sturdy enough to outlast a winter of ice, each topped by a floppy daisy flower in mid-summer and protuberant seed cones all the way to spring: these are the chief aesthetic attributes of Rudbeckia maxima. I had read that this was a difficult plant, so I was surprised to find it flourishes in my wet clay soil in full sun.

Now I have learned that the plant originates in the piney woods and plains of Arkansas, extending through Louisiana, into Texas, and prefers plenty of moisture, sun, and heat. I may garden a thousand miles to the northeast, but I can offer this strange plant conditions similar to its native habitat. Though the rudbeckia dies completely to the ground each winter, it returns with great vigor as soon as the temperature rises. It even endures saturated clay through several months of winter.

Rudbeckia maxima's vertical form works well with many tussock grasses such as panicums and miscanthus, and its blue-grey foliage is complemented by the burnished red of Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker'.

In my garden space, surrounded by dark woods, the plant's structure and bright flowers present a stiff, colorful figure against the background of the woods.

For more details on this outstanding plant, check out the Brooklyn Botanic Garden website.


  1. I'll have to give it another try. (Heavy wet clay I've got plenty of.) I didn't baby one I bought several years ago and it faded away after a year or two. I thought maybe we just didn't have the heat units here for it to thrive. (Zone 5, Ithaca NY)

  2. I'm in zone 6B. Maybe just a little more heat makes the difference. We've had a wet winter with little snow, so the ground has frozen and thawed repeatedly. I'm hoping they haven't drowned.



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