It’s said that sunflowers symbolize adoration. Maybe it’s because these bright yellow flowers are easy to grow, with lovely flowers. They’re great gifts to uplift friends and family alike. But maybe you’d rather stick with flowers that look like sunflowers instead.
Whether that means bright yellow flowers and a green flower stem, so many plants resemble sunflowers. Obvious examples include those in the daisy family or the asteraceae family. Flowers in these families have that sunflower look, with showy yellow petals and dark brown centers.
The amount of plants in the sunflower family rivals only that of the orchid family and the legume family. Both families make up ¼ of the flowering plants classified today. But just because they’re classified this way doesn’t mean they don’t share a resemblance with other species.
In fact, sunflower look-alikes are everywhere and they thrive in hardiness zones ranging across North America. If the bright yellow petals of Helianthus annuus (the common sunflower plant) aren’t to your liking, consider the following flowers that have that sunflower look without everything else that comes with it.
Yellow Sunflower Look-Alikes
If you’re looking for bright yellow flowers that are big like Helianthus annuus, look no further. The yellow collection of those that resemble sunflowers is vast. Some look like small sunflowers, while others might grow on tender shrubs. Some have stems like sunflowers’ stems, too.
This flowering plant (Rudbeckia hirta to be exact) has dark green foliage and is perennial in hardiness zones 4-9. Sometimes also called the gloriosa daisy, it spreads up to two feet wide and up to 3 meters tall. From the center of a rosette of spoon-shaped leaves grows a stalk on which showy yellow coneflowers bloom in spring and fall.
There are numerous varieties of Rudbeckia hirta that resemble sunflowers. They self-sow and thrive in both full sunlight and partial shade depending on the variety. Black-eyed Susan plants need either very little water or moderate water. They’re relatively easy to grow, and as a result, gloriosa daisy plants grow wild in most states across North America.
Learn More: Black-Eyed Susans
False sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides) are called so because these plants resemble sunflowers. False sunflowers are perennial plants too. They reach up to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
False sunflowers have a yellow to dark brown center much like common sunflowers. But their leaves with serrated edges are more triangular, rather than obviate, and the false sunflower flower heads are simple rather than compound. They thrive in partial sun to full sun and appreciate well-draining soil.
Known scientifically as Echinacea paradoxa this herbaceous perennial is hardy in zones 5-9. It grows up to 3 feet in height, with a spread of up to 1.5 feet. The flower heads resemble that of Black-eyed Susan as well, with a dark brown center and yellow radial petals that bloom in summer.
It functions in the same manner as its purple sibling, Echinacea purpurea in that it’s an edible plant. Its roots are used in teas for immune support. Its self-sowing seeds attract birds and butterflies too.
Tithonia diversifolia is a tall-growing plant (up to 9 feet) with flowers that look like wild sunflowers. They’re smaller in comparison to Mammoth sunflowers and look more like bush daisies. Because they’re self-seeding perennial plants they are often grown to improve soil quality and feed livestock.
Although they aren’t as delicate looking as Black-eyed Susan, they provide the soil with a delicate NPK balance that not many other flowering plants can. They love full sun and well-draining soil. Japanese sunflower blooms year-round.
Orange Sunflower Look-Alikes
And then there are orange flowers. Here, we diverge just slightly from the yellow sunflower vibe and move more toward fiery sunflower analogs. Although there aren’t as many orange flowers that look like sunflowers, each of these stands on its own. From those in the Asteraceae family to Calendula, sift through these flowers if vibrant orange is your aesthetic preference.
Calendula ‘Orange King’
An attractive plant to bees and butterflies, Calendula officinalis is a plant much beloved by gardeners. This has to do with its ability to attract beneficial insects and trap disadvantageous pests. It also has been used medicinally for ages as a fever reducer, and treatment for spasmodic muscles.
With large orange flowers that look like our sunny friends, this hardy annual has bushy semi-ovate leaves. It grows up to 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide, making it a great addition to an already full flower garden.
Learn More: Calendula
Tagetes erecta is another lovely plant with orange flowers that look like Helianthus without the dark brown centers. Instead, their fragrant blooms are compound and smushed together in a lovely display.
These plants thrive annually in zones 2-11 and appreciate full sun and well-drained soil. They are drought tolerant and deer resistant. They also attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Although there is some debate as to whether or not these flowering plants are the same as Calendula, the fact remains that each is assigned to a different genus.
Learn More: Marigolds
Purple Sunflower Look-Alikes
Let’s cool off a little! Purple flowers bring a sense of calm to a garden, and tone down areas full of yellow, orange, and red blooms. Here we include two members of the Asteraceae family and another coneflower that you might already be familiar with.
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium has become a huge hit among perennial gardeners in recent years. This light purple flowering plant in the Asteraceae family grows up to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It blooms in fall, thus giving it the name, Fall Aster.
Because it tends to clump together and mound up as it grows, guides recommend pruning it back in June in preparation for fall blooms. This plant supports native bees and helps restore and conserve ecosystems. It thrives in USDA hardiness zones 3-8.
Echinacea purpurea is yet another medicinal plant that looks a lot like sunflowers. It has a radial petal arrangement, gathered around a dark brown center. Much like its sibling, Echinacea paradoxa, Purple Coneflower enjoys well-draining silty soils. It self-seeds and grows up to 5 feet tall in zones 3-9.
Large purple coneflower is a lovely sight to see on the prairie. It’s a great inclusion for an herb or cottage garden where it has room to spread out up to 3 feet.
Swan River Daisy
Brachyscome iberidifolia is a purple plant in the daisy family that grows up to 1.5 feet high. The light purple, lavender flowers bloom from spring to fall and work well in almost any design.
Swan River Daisy prefers USDA zones 2-11 and is perennial in zones 9-11. The flowers are small, like miniature sunflowers that are only 1 inch wide. This is a great choice for gardeners who like the look of sunflowers in a smaller, more compact state.
Red Sunflower Look-Alikes
Since red is a color a lot of gardeners love to incorporate into their gardens, we must take a look at a few varieties. These flowers have the same radial appearance and can function like sunflowers in a garden.
Tithonia rotundifolia are lovely red flowers that grow between 3 and 8 feet tall and spread a few feet wide. These flowers are great for more tropical areas, in zones 9-11. They love poor soils and partial sun to full sun. This low-maintenance plant does not need much water.
The red daisy-like flowers bloom atop a tall stem from summer to fall. They’re great for vegetable gardens because they attract beneficial pollinators so many plants rely on. In their hardiness zones, they’re considered wild. They prefer well-drained soil and full sun.
Also known as Gerber Daisy, Gerbera jamesonii is a lovely plant with red flowers that look like sunflowers. These are low-maintenance plants that prefer full sun to partial shade. They are clump-forming tender perennials that bloom up to 4 feet tall.
Their red flowers get up to 4 inches across. In some areas, this plant blooms year-round, and in other areas, this daisy blooms from summer through fall. They have pinnate, spoon-shaped leaves that look lovely all year round. They are annual.
White Sunflower Look-Alikes
Much like purple, white flowers can assist a garden by toning down the design and giving the eye a place to rest among all the vibrancy. We even include one short ground cover plant that has that sunflower-like appeal!
Erigeron karvinskianus, the Mexican daisy, is a mounding-habit perennial plant. It produces a prolific display of tiny white to pale pink flowers that are reminiscent of sunflowers in extreme miniature. If you have a child who wants sunflowers for their dollhouse, this is a great choice!
While it’s more commonly used as a shrubby ground cover plant in warm climates, this can also be used to great effect in container gardens. Incidentally, it also looks stunning tucked in around the base of real sunflowers!
Learn More: Mexican Daisy
Leucanthemum vulgare is a vigorous spreading bush daisy with a yellow center and small white petals that grow up to 3 feet tall. In most places it’s considered a weed, making it a great addition for wildflower gardens in hardiness zones 3-8.
It prefers full sun and well-draining soil. Its white petals bloom from spring to summer. However, it’s not the best plant for a ranch or pasture due to its invasive classification in several US states.
Miscellaneous Sunflower Look-Alikes
Finally, there are sunflower-like plants that don’t stick to just one color. These tend to grow in gradients and shades of numerous hues. From the ever-popular mum to the US prairies, to European meadows, the following flowers don’t fit the single color mold.
Coreopsis tinctoria is a plant that grows in the plains of North America, all over. Its interesting yellow flowers with red and orange inner accents are prized in prairie gardens due to its ability to attract butterflies, bees, and other nectar insects. It has been used by native peoples over time to treat diuretic conditions and nausea.
These perennial flowers self-seed, and tend to pop up more in wet years. It blooms year-round, typically in spring and fall. Its dark green leaves get up to 1 foot tall and clump up to 2 feet wide. Because this is a plains plant, it loves well-drained soil.
Chrysanthemum x morifolium is so widespread and has so many varieties, we put it in the miscellaneous category. Flower colors range from white to yellow, all the way to purple and even green. This herbaceous, slightly woody plant has compound flowers as sunflowers do. Some varieties have a pronounced yellow center, while others have so many petals it’s impossible to see the center.
Because it’s such a well-known and long-loved plant, there’s a lot of color and style to pick from. Most mums grow no more than 3 feet tall and have woody stems with thick leathery leaves that emit a strong smell when bruised. Most mums grow in hardiness zones 5-9.
We are going to end this sunflower analog piece with a bang. The extensive Gaillardia species, also called Blanket Flower or Firewheel, is one such analog that grows in the US plains in vast open areas. If you’ve ever seen and smelled a field of Blanket Flower, you know why home growers would benefit.
The flower is yellow-tipped, with an ombre into dark red in the center (hence, Firewheel). This sun-loving plant prefers well-draining silty soil and grows up to 2 feet tall. It will spread wide over a few years and thrive in zone 3-10.
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