reliable rudbeckia: ‘henry eilers’ and ‘prairie glow’ join ‘herbstsonne’ in the garden

rudbeckia collageONCE, MORE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES shared the joy of July-through-September Rudbeckia season with me. Now, sadly, those butterflies are fewer here, but the biggest, most giving Rudbeckia I grow, ‘Herbstsonne,’ keeps putting out its flowers like a beacon, just in case they show up in droves again. With it as inspiration, in recent years I tried two newer-to-me Rudbeckia: ‘Henry Eilers,’ and ‘Prairie Glow.’

Whether we call them black-eyed susans or coneflowers, there are a couple of dozen species of Rudbeckia, an American genus in the Compositae or Asteraceae or simply “daisy family” that has produced many popular garden perennials, biennials and even annuals.

I long ago stopped growing ‘Goldsturm,’ from the species R. fulgida, probably the most familiar Rudbeckia of all. Like many gardeners, I planted lots when ‘Goldsturm’ was first popularized (along with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and purple coneflower, remember?) and guess I OD’d on it. A good plant, but here are three I like better:

rudbeckia ‘herbstsonne’

tall-rudbeckiaMY LONGEST Rudbeckia relationship has proven to be ‘Herbstsonne,’ whose name translates as autumn sun, and which earned a Royal Horticulture Society Award of Garden Merit in 2002. Whether it is Rudbeckia nitida or Rudbeckia laciniata or a hybrid of the two, I do not know; depends who you ask.

It has been with me more years than I can recall—certainly a decade-plus, and probably more like 15. What is now a big clump reliably erupts around July at the far side of the property, on a direct axis from where I work all day. Though I sit more than 100 feet away, there is no missing this 6-plus-footer with many weeks of vivid yellow flowers.

It has duked it out in a giant stand of even-taller ornamental grasses without even a hiccup, and truly: I have done almost nothing but sit here and admire ‘Herbstsonne.’ As with all Rudbeckia, birds will be happy if you fail to deadhead and seeds are set; butterflies appear to be happy with the whole genus from first bloom to last.

Give it sun, and maybe some support if your late summer’s especially windy or stormy (generally this one stands up on its own just fine), and expect to become old friends, too.

rudbeckia triloba ‘prairie glow’

prairie glow rudbeckia flowersI DIDN’T KNOW when I planted it whether Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ would be as durable as my beloved ‘Herbstsonne,’ since catalogs refer to it as a biennial to short-lived perennial, also saying it self-sows. No matter; it seemed to shape up fast to 3-4 feet high. A few young plants from Select Seeds made a good show in their first year (and seed is also available, along with various other Rudbeckia). I suspect that there may be variation in years to come if it does indeed self-sow—but even the basic yellow-flowered triloba is a handsome thing, if some appear among the offspring.

One year in, I had about half my plants survive, and a couple of seedlings, too; by year three I needed to add more young plants to keep the generations coming.

I planted my ‘Prairie Glow’ among the annual silver-leaf sunflowers (speaking of composite family members) that I like so much, where the smaller, much-branched Rudbeckia is sort of filling in the lower and mid-level, as if there are different tiers and scales of sunflower-like blooms in concert. Nice.

rudbeckia ‘henry eilers’

flower detail henry eilers rudbeckiaHOW DID I MISS ‘Henry Eilers,’ introduced to the nursery trade in 2003, until recently? Apparently this selection of the species R. subtomentosa was discovered alongside an Illinois railroad route by a nurseryman the plant was eventually named for. What caught his eye, and will catch yours: The yellow rays are not flat as usual, but rolled up, like quills. In just one season, starting from a small plant, this one was already nearly 4 feet tall, with up to 5 feet predicted.

‘Henry Eilers’ looked from the start as if it intended to be a strong performer, the way ‘Herbstsonne’ has proven; I saw a bold stand of it in a friend’s garden this summer. I have also read to expect self-sowns, which isn’t a bad thing, but I haven’t had any so far in a few years. (Is Henry too tall for you? There is a one-third-shorter ‘Little Henry,’ too.)

what about hardiness (and bunnies, and woodchucks)?

HOW HARDY are all these Rudbeckia?  Depends who you ask, so let’s use just one source for all. Missouri Botanical Garden says ‘Herbstsonne’ is Zone 5-9; triloba is Zone 4-8; and subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ is Zones 4-8.

As for animal damage, the 2014 rabbits here were particularly pleased at the arrival of the two new Rudbeckia, savaging the foliage and stems of some of each variety down to nubbins. I have never in all these years seen them go for ‘Herbstsonne,’ whose cutleaf foliage is very different in shape and texture, but who knows whether this is just coincidence or some actual preference. Woodchucks, too, seem to love these (and their Compositae cousins the asters as well). Damn.


    1. nportcmikei says:

      Yep. ;) I have a big pot with L. ligulistylis, L. scariosa, & L. spicata ‘Kobold'( among other things). The bumblebees are all over the L. scariosa, other insects visit various things, but the Monarchs visit only the L. ligulistylis.

  1. Happily, I have seen many more monarchs than in years past. I have no idea what kind of Rudies I have – they came with the house – but the monarchs like milkweeds, Joe pye, butterfly weed, and ZINNIAS.

  2. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    Well, now I know why Herbstsonne isn’t popular around here – zone 4. I keep running into this plant lately in my reading. I really want to run into Henry Eilers! That one just might make its way into my garden. Thank you Margaret!

  3. Janna Makaeva says:

    I’ve grown Henry Eilers for 5 years and it’s a terrific plant. But it doesn’t self sow at all :( I wish it did, I want more of it!

  4. Kate Crowne says:

    Margaret, I am so glad you featured these Late Summer/Early Fall beauties. I agree, completely, about the “Goldstrum” My deer seem to target it, specifically, so I am digging it up this Fall, and replacing it with some of the other prairie varieties of Echinacea. My Henry Eilers is 5 feet tall this year. So far, it has been “mannerly”….neat and no reseeding, so far. I wouldn’t mind if it did because I could see using it as an entire backdrop for a new fall border (oh no, more work!) I pair it with Panicum “Cheyenne Sky” and the tall Salvia “Azure” (from Santa Fe) which bloom late in Central Oregon.

    Have you tried Echinacea “Green Wizard”? It does not have a showy flower, but the finches love the seeds, and it has a very architectural look, and good in a natural, country border. A full base of leaves, with a tall flower head (about 36 inches)

    Perhaps one of your readers can tell me if Henry Eilers can be divided…as I mentioned, I have no volunteers, so far.

    Thanks very much for any info.

    1. Lee Nelson says:

      I’ve grown Henry Eilers for the past five years, great plant , has never re-seeded but it’s
      easy to divide. Early spring just as new growth is emerging or in the fall. If done in fall I find it’s easier to cut a small section back to 3 or 4 inches above the ground, with a sharp spade dig in and remove a small section.

      R. triloba rarely comes back for me but will reseed here in upstate NY

  5. Michelle says:

    I love seeing rudbeckias blooming in the fall. They just seem to light up the landscape. Henry Eilers should grow well in my climate zone so I think I will try it in my garden. And we have no bunnies – too many predators :/

  6. Diane says:

    Margaret-Thank you for spreading the word about Henry Eilers, my favorite rudbeckia by far. This plant can be divided. I do this in spring (z5). Currently have 5 plants (about 4′ w x 4-5′ h), with more divisions shared with neighbors. My 1st Henry Eilers is 6 years old, a prolific bloomer that survived a terrible drought (2012) and extremely cold winter (2013-14). So glad other gardeners have welcomed lovely Henry into their gardens!

    1. Kate Crowne says:

      Thank you very much for confirming that Henry Eilers Echinacea can be divided. It is such a wild thing, I wasn’t sure if it would “resent” being messed with, as with many native plants… It has taken three years for mine to get to full height from one gallons, and would have hated to disturb them if I were doomed for failure in that regard. Thanks again

  7. Melissa Hansen says:

    Love my single Henry Eilers plant. It made it through Minnesota’s long winter of heavy snow beautifully.
    I find it interesting that rabbits and deer are even mentioned as pestering rudbeckias. I work at a perennial outdoor nursery just outside Minneapolis. Many plants are in beds or gardens and we dig & pot them as purchased). We have no fencing and spray for deer regularly, but we never consider rudbeckias needing protection.
    In fact we consider them critter proof . Never been touched in my own gardens either.

    1. margaret says:

      I see them listed as animal-magnets on some lists, so I don’t think it’s just “me,” but as we all know: animals eat the best stuff they can get in any particular buffet, never having read the damn “animal-resistant” lists! :) Thanks, Melissa. And it was rabbits for certain; I have a deer fence (and also have seen the rabbits on Henry and Prairie — not Herbstsonne.

    2. Kate Crowne says:

      I was shocked to find the critters having their way with the Goldstrum. I have no fencing, either, but spray when I plant something new or I discover nibbling. My garden flourishes, for the most part, because I plant things that the deer don’t usually browse on. My neighbors marvel at this, but it seems so simple. Another anomaly this year…. nibbling on the Aesclepia tuberosa (the classic orange). It has been in the perennial beds for 5 years, but this year, they were on the deer menu. Go figure.

  8. Kylee Baumle says:

    I wrote of my love affair with Henry Eilers several years ago. I’ve been growing it for seven years now and it’s by far my favorite Rudbeckia. I haven’t found that it self-seeds however, although I wish it would!

    My second favorite Rudbeckia is ‘Prairie Glow’ but alas, it didn’t make it through the first winter after I’d planted it in my garden several years ago. I might give it a try again though. I love its petite, bicolored blooms!

    1. margaret says:

      Glad to have your first-hand confirmation of my sense of how these two will perform, Kylee. So glad Henry, at least, plans to stick around. :)

  9. Brian G. says:

    Saw Rudbeckia Maxima in person for the first time this year at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. Very beautiful and large gray/green/blue leaves. So tall, too. I’m amazed at the variety of leaf form in this species.

  10. Kim says:

    I have one little stand (~2 feet diam) of Herbstonne and I’m in love with it. I’m a late bloomer myself so forgive my newbie questions… I really want more! The local garden center has been sending newsletters about NOW is the time plant perennials. Should I go try to find the Herbstonne now and plant it in the fall? I planted it in the spring before and it took 2 seasons to be spectacular. Or when (and should I) divide what I have now? Margaret you are such an inspirations in so many ways.

  11. Linda says:

    Herbstonne is prone to powdery mildew in our garden. We had a very wet, relatively cool summer this year. Still, even the phlox was unaffected. But we did have powdery mildew on our native monardas (as usual,) and for the second year in a row, also on Herbstonne. Last summer was hot and dry – the polar opposite of this summer. Last summer Herbstonne was stunted and affected by mildew early, while this summer it got nice and tall and didn’t get hit by mildew until late August after a prolonged rainy period. Maybe I’ll move the monarda that’s close to it. I don’t remember having the mildew problems before they became neighbors.

  12. Lorie says:

    To give you a smile re monarchs…they are coming through NE right now, stopping at the Joe Pye and asclepias to tank up. The next town over is name Papillion…you can simply stand most places and observe the migration, which is much improved this year. YEA!! L

  13. Al Juba says:

    Henry Eilers is one great plant, I’ve had it about 7 or 8 years now in zone 6 NJ but it has never self-sown. As it previously got to 6′ the past few years, I did the Chelsea Chop on it in late May when it was about 18 to 24″ tall and it is now blooming beautifully at about 3 to 3.5′ high. And I saw a hummingbird on it last week, it’s those tubular flowers, you know!

  14. Liz Dutton says:

    Love my Henry Eillers rudbeckia. Have it three different gardens in my yard
    Never self sows. Rabbits bother many things but not my Henry
    Survived a drought summer and a very rough winter. Love it in combination with callicaroa (beauty bush) lavender purple berries in fall. Live it with Nirthwinds switchgrass
    And I have a very tall late blooming day lily that I wish I knew name of that is a great
    color match. I’m in zone 5. Sandy soil near Lake Michigan. Henry is a fave
    I’m going out to try the suggestion of dividing a little chunk off of it right now!

  15. Libby says:

    Perfect timing! I was just looking at the “Herbstonne” yesterday at my favorite nursery . Now I will definitely go back and buy a few for my west facing, white fence area. Thanks!

  16. crysta says:

    Your comment about the voracious appitites of the rabbits is interesting. For some reason this year their palettes have changed. I live in Manitoba and the rabbits devoured my echinacea and delfiniums. This is something that has never been a problem before. Unfortunatly the more tender varities of echinacea did not survive their dinning preference. Nature never reveals its true self to us but rather gives us glimpses to keep the wonder attainable.


    1. margaret says:

      I have given up trying to figure out the tastes of rabbits here, too, Crysta. This year they have a whole new idea of what’s for dinner. Frustrating!

  17. Kathleen says:

    No rabbits here, but lovely goats! In my yard, deer eat Rudbeckias right down to the ground. I love the late, lovely flowers, but the plants never last long enough to get there. Do others have this problem?

    1. margaret says:

      I think so, Kathleen. I have seen them listed on various state and extension lists as appealing to animals (and then also in some areas as NOT appealing to animals!). Go figure. :)

  18. Nora says:

    Weighing in late, but finally finding a moment to catch up! Thinking about bunny savaging, and remembering your loss of Jack. It might be why the bunnies are now more aggressive. As our dear dog, Buddy, aged, the rabbits started getting bolder. He passed away last week after 17 yrs, and five months, all but two of those months with us, and we miss him dreadfully–and the bunnies are having a field day unless I spray.

  19. Ann says:

    This is the best post! I am looking for a really tall Rudbeckia to go in front of tiger lilies in part shade. I just hope the deer and bunnies don’t devour them!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Ann. There are so many good tall ones — including ‘Herbstsonne’ and ‘Henry Eilers.’ Not sure part shade is ideal for best performance, though.

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