There are those who disdain black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), also known as orange coneflower, simply because it is so common, especially the varieties ‘goldsturm’ and ‘fulgida.’ I do not share their disdain, and consider black-eyed Susan to be an indispensible flower for any sunny Midwestern garden.
However, black-eyed Susan has an older sister, brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), and I think this Susan is not common enough. This is one of the few perennials that will give you late season color in moderate shade, though it also grows fine in full sun. In fact, I’ve seen R. triloba growing contentedly in some pretty unfriendly spots, such as beneath Siberian elms and silver maples (these were volunteers, I don’t think I would recommend placing a nursery plant in such a location). This is an adaptable plant that can live with competition.
Brown-eyed Susan grows to 4′ or more, around twice the height of R. fulgida. The flowers are smaller but more numerous, with short, bluntly rounded petals (ray flowers). The flowers create an airy, cloud-like effect when combined with R. triloba’s tall, rounded shape. It makes a fine back of the border plant, though you can cut it back around the end of May to keep it more compact.
Brown-eyed Susan will self-sow with abandon, which is a good thing because the plants can be short-lived. However, to limit the number of new volunteers you can cut off the seed heads before they ripen. R. triloba attracts both birds and butterflies.