Hail, Hail Tithonia

I’ve already mentioned the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) growing in the vegetable/herb patch. The longer I watch this annual from Mexico and Central America, the surer I am that I want to plant it again next year.

Mexican Sunflower
Mexican Sunflower with Common Oregano blooming in the background. Photo: Judy

First of all, when I hear the name “Tithonia” I think of Freedonia, the fictional country in the Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup, possibly the greatest movie ever made. This puts me in a good mood, at least for a few moments.

Duck Soup
Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), leader of Freedonia.

As if that were not enough, I find that you can’t beat Tithonia’s attention-grabbing reddish orange color (I’m a person who loves orange flowers).

Mexican Sunflower
Photo: Judy

Mexican Sunflower hasn’t had any insect or disease problems. It likes hot weather, full sun, and medium to dry soil.

I’ve read that Tithonia grows to 6′ and may want staking. However, in my garden it is under 4′ with a shrubby habit – at least as broad as it is tall. The ones growing at the Chicago Botanic Garden have the same mounded habit, though they are pruned to be more nicely rounded. Without pruning, the flowers tend to have really long stems that poke outward like spokes.

Mexican Sunflower habit. Photo: ag.auburn.edu.
Mexican Sunflower, showing habit. Photo: ag.auburn.edu.

The pollinators do seem to like the orange flowers.

Speaking of pollinators, I’ve been seeing a lone Monarch butterfly in the front garden most days for the past week or so. This is still less than normal. but a marked improvement. I hope their presence continues to increase, and maybe I’ll get some caterpillars on the milkweed.

The other day I used my phone to get our first and only picture of a Monarch in the garden this year.

Monarch butterflies
Monarch on the Swamp Milkweed the other day, taken with my phone. Photo: Jason

Have you tried growing Mexican Sunflower?

42 Comments on “Hail, Hail Tithonia

  1. It’s beautiful! I haven’t tried growing it here in the Seattle area, but it should do all right in the summertime. Hmmmm…. Yet another thing to plant! Love it.

  2. Lucky to see the Monarch. I only saw one so far too. We have a count going on with the Ornithological Society and I would hate to report only one. I think the Mexican Sunflower is pretty, but don’t want any flowers to stake.

    • I’ve seen a few other monarchs but this is the first I could get a picture of. In my garden the Tithonia does not need staking – perhaps it does in warmer climates.

  3. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of it. It looks like it’s got kind of a cosmos / zinnia thing going for it. I like it.
    Nice shot of the butterfly for a phone camera.

    • It’s kind of like Cosmos/zinnias that have been on steroids. This is the first time I have grown it, I just heard of it last year.

  4. Not familiar with Mexican Sunflower. Isn’t it great when a plant performs so well for you? Hope the Monarch is just one of many that pass through your garden this year. I haven’t spotted any here so far.

  5. Yes, I’ve grown Tithonia. Unfortunately, mine did not play nice and almost completely overtook an entire bed, growing closer to the 6 ft tall it was reported to be capable of. I’ve always thought flowers are easier to grow than vegetables.

  6. The color of that Mexican Sunflower is so powerful! I can see why you are drawn to it! I love colors that are rich like these as well! And how wonderful that you have seen a Monarch….we haven’t seen any yet this year.

  7. Love Mexican Sunflower and grew it a few years ago. They were displayed in a large group surrounded by Salvia ‘Blue Angel’ at a local nursery. Love this flower and your post makes me want to grow some again next year. The color is so cheerful.

  8. The Tithonia up against that deep green Fennel is lovely! I’m a person who loves orange flowers, also. We orange-lovers need to stick together and fill the world with orange. Tithonia could be on our flag!

  9. Such a pretty flower, and perfect color for late summer.


  10. I’m also mad about orange and Tithonia is definitely one of the best. Looks great with the purple fennel.

  11. I love them too! Every year I buy a few plants. In my part sun garden it’s hard to find spots with enough sun and room. but usually I manage to shoehorn them in somewhere. For some reason they aren’t growing well this year though-staying around a foot tall so far but blooming well so I’ll take them!

  12. I love Mexican sunflowers and always grow them, as you say they liven up a patch! I also love all things Marx brothers. By the way, have you had your open day in the garden yet?xxxx

  13. I have not tried anyone but I have similar flowers and yes, I love vibrant colors. You seem to have lots of flowers. Do you use any fertilizer?

  14. I had it in Virginia and what a butterfly magnet! I wanted more here in SC but my seeds didn’t do well this year with all the rain we had. Will try it again. After it puts up flowers and then seeds, you will have it for years to come, it gently reseeds.

  15. Tithonia is one of my best butterfly magnets. It’s a wonderful reseeder. There’s room for a big bed here and I let it go to the full height. At the end of the season, I pull the plants and lay them where I want plants the following year. Companions are Duranta and a row of Gulf Muhly for fall.

    Tithonia isn’t for those who want overly neat plants. It will sprawl. It’s for those who want clouds of butterflies rising as they approach.

  16. Love that brilliant spark of colour, will have to check if I can grow them here! So happy to see that photo of the monarch, haven’t seen a single one around here this year….

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