Black-Eyed Susan, Brown-Eyed Susan, and Olof Rudbeck the Younger

A couple of years ago I transplanted some surplus Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) to the Parkway Border. They prospered, and were soon joined by a couple of volunteer Brown-Eyed-Susan (R. triloba). Around this time of year, as a result, there is a big cheerful drift of golden yellow in front of our house. Passing drivers would have to be distracted indeed not to notice.

Black and Brown-Eyed Susan in the Parkway Border. Keeps passing drivers awake.
Black and Brown-Eyed Susan in the Parkway Border. Keeps passing drivers awake.

There are at least 10 species in the genus Rudbeckia and countless cultivars and hybrids, but these are the only two I grow. Both are the straight species. I have nothing against the popular cultivar ‘Goldsturm’, but I really don’t see how it is superior to plain old R. fulgida.

Parkway Border
Parkway Border

A fall or late summer garden in the Midwest without Rudbeckias would be like a Labor Day picnic without sweet corn. Both of my Rudbeckias are adaptable and resilient. They are not deterred by neglect or challenging conditions. And both have the pioneer spirit: you are likely to find them staking a claim to just about any spot in your garden. In my opinion, they both look their best when planted in masses.

Black-Eyed Susan
Black-Eyed Susan

Black-Eyed Susan is the more compact of the two, growing 2-3′. Another common name is orange coneflower. If you look closely, you will see that the petals (ray flowers, actually) are orange near the central cone, then golden yellow further out.

Some dislike the fact that R. fulgida is so widely used, but to these persons I say, “Pshaw!” It’s widely used because it is such a fabulous plant!

Brown-Eyed Susan peek out from behind a tall clump of Norther Sea Oats.
Brown-Eyed Susan peek out from behind a tall clump of Norther Sea Oats.

Brown-Eyed Susan is my favorite Rudbeckia. It can grow quite tall and is best cut back by half around the end of May. The ray flowers are short and rounded, the composite flowers smaller but produced in great abundance.

Brown-Eyed Susan flowers up close.
Brown-Eyed Susan flowers up close.

Carl Linnaeus named Rudbeckia after Olof Rudbeck the Younger, a renowned Swedish scientist at the University of Upsala while Linnaeus was an impoverikshed student there. Olof took Linnaeus in and gave him a job tutoring his three grandchildren. Years later, Linnaeus named this magnificent genus of flowers after his patron.

Immature self-sown Brown-Eyed Susan in the shady back garden. Brown-Eyed Susan is fairly shade tolerant.
Immature self-sown Brown-Eyed Susan in the shady back garden. Brown-Eyed Susan is fairly shade tolerant.

Do you have a favorite Rudbeckia?

38 Comments on “Black-Eyed Susan, Brown-Eyed Susan, and Olof Rudbeck the Younger

  1. Wow! Look at the abundance of your garden as showed in the wide view. Looks great. I have no Rudbeckias, but I’m partial to the Brown-Eyed Susans. Have you seen or considered “Cherry Brandy”?

  2. To be honest, I frequently get all the Rudbeckias mixed up. But I have R. hirta in my garden. It’s technically a biennial, I guess, but it always re-seeds itself because I leave the seedheads on for the birds until the spring. Love the look of the Sea Oats with the Rudbeckia! You’ve given me an idea! Thanks! Loved what you said about a “Labor Day picnic without sweet corn.” So true. 🙂

  3. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it didn’t even occur to me to cut back Rudbeckia triloba to keep it shorter. I love them, but their height can be a problem. I’m going to try that next year!

  4. I love Rudbeckia fulgida so much and for awhile it was hard to find — everyone seemed to stock Goldsturm instead. I finally found some seed last year. Rudbeckia triloba is new to me. Very pretty.

  5. Rudbeckias are very delicious if you are a snail, but this year I saw my very first Rudbeckia to make it to flowering stage; a R: triloba ‘Prairie Glow’. I love it!

  6. I agree with you that they look at their best planted in a group but then I think that about most plants! This is my first year growing Rudbeckias, annual ones in the cutting bed, I would like to grow the perennials too if they flower as well as yours.

  7. I THINK ours are all Black-eyed. I’ve never been quite sure. Can’t even remember where I got the first starts from. All I know is that we have LOTS of them. Only in the last few days have they faded. I thoroughly enjoy their hearty spirits and fine color.

  8. The brown-eyed are my favorites too. Like yours, mine appeared spontaneously (in my previous, sunny garden), probably from birds visiting. The bluish sea oats are perfect with the sunny blooms; you hit on an inspired combo.

  9. I also grow Sweet Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomatosa) in my savanna garden. It’ grows quite a bit taller than my Showy Black-eyed Susan and likes partial shade. I

  10. I am being dragged forcibly into Autumn, even the geese flying overhead are telling me its time to give in. I love Rudbeckias, they are cheery and brave and I am enjoying a Rudbeckia lacinata at the moment as it hasn’t quite opened and is hanging on to summer. As well as ‘Goldsturm’ I grew some annual Rudbeckias, Rustic Dwarf and Goldilocks. Love the story about Olof too.

  11. I love Rudbeckias too, I love the nice brown centres and the cheery yellow flowers. They spread so nicely too. Well yours certainly do, they seem to like your garden. Stunning!

  12. I have drifts in numerous parts of the yard and this time of year they provide a much needed color. That being said, I’ve always referred to them as brown-eyed susans (the centers are brown) but according to your description, I should say black-eyed susan?

    • These are common names, so there’s no exact right answer. R. fulgida and R. hirta are more frequently referred to as Black-Eyed, R. triloba as Brown-Eyed. The difference is really in the petals, not the color of the cone.

  13. Your garden views are spectacular. I’d walk/drive by your yard all the time if closer just to admire. Testing repeatedly over the years, these flowers do poorly in my garden. I have some puny Rudbeckia fulgida (Orange Coneflower) that I should move to a sunnier location soon to give them a fighting chance.

  14. All my Rudbeckia clumps are volunteer. I’ve tried some of the cultivars but they don’t take. They do seem to prefer a little shade. Yellow is such a cheerful color I can’t help but love them.

  15. That’s an eyecatching display to be sure! I hope no one drives off the road as they slow down to enjoy it! It’s been a good year for the Rudbeckia in my garden (I think it’s ‘Goldsturm’; it was already here when we bought this house.) It started blooming in early August, and still looks good now. Such a nice mass of color! I’ve thought about trying other cultivars, but really am not sure where I would put them!

  16. Yellow flowers are a no no for some people. If anyone has an aversion to yellows they should take a look in your garden to see just how much they add to a border this time of year.D.

  17. They all look stunning, such beautiful autumn plants, I especially love the brown eyed susan, it looks a little rounder petal wise and

  18. This looks absolutely stunning, Jason! I love R. triloba and I’m seriously playing with the idea of creating a yellow border next year. Such a cheerful sight 🙂

  19. I agree with you. You can’t overuse rudbeckia in North America. I have a plant of what I think is the variety Herbstsonne. I have no clue where it came from (probably in a clump of other things I was given). It is very tall but it so happen that it is just in the right spot.

  20. Hello Chicago gardeners! Planted R. triloba from seed in 2013 – they bloomed this summer (2014) – a little leggy – probably needed more sun.

  21. The view into your garden with the yellow Rudbeckia looks wonderful!
    Rudbeckia hirta seems to be now one of the black-box-plants in my garden.
    Rudbeckia as perennial seem to need more water here or don’t they like our clayey garden soil? They definitely don’t play the eyecatcher!

  22. I just saw your nice post on Rudbeckia and I certainly enjoyed the photos, but I also like the fact that you told everyone that the source of the genus name, Rudbeckia, was Olof Rudbeck the younger. You indicate that Linnaeus named the genus “Years later”. i.e., years after Olof had rescued Linnaeus from a student life of poverty. Actually it was during his school years around 1731 that Linnaeus was befriended by Olof and it was in 1731 that Linnaeus, while still a student under Olof the younger, honored Olof with the name of a new species, Rudbeckia. Interestingly almost all floras from the past to the present day indicate that Rudbeckia was named by Linnaeus for both the father and son Rudbecks. Linnaeus, himself, was the reason for this confusion. In a famous flora of 1737 Linnaeus wrote that he named the Rudbeckia genus for both father and son, even though in 1731 he wrote a letter to Olof the younger telling him that the genus was named for him. I think that in 1731 in the immediacy of his gratitude for being saved from poverty, Linnaeus enthusiastically honoered the younger Rudbeck, but six years and much experience later when he wrote another flora, he realized that courtesy called for him to honor both the father and son, both of whom were famous and revered professors at Uppsala University.

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