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What is a Black-Eyed Susan?

Black-eyed susans can be poisonous to cattle.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 July 2014
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The Black-Eyed Susan actually refers to several different plants that have a brown or deep black center and typically yellow petals. The name Black-Eyed Susan is likely derived from the poem composed by English poet John Gay, titled, “Black-Eyed Susan,” which was written in the early 18th century. The plant may be known by a number of different names like Brown-Eyed Susan, Gloriosa Daisy or Yellow Daisy. To the residents of Maryland, it will forever be the Black-Eyed Susan since it is their state flower.

Most commonly, when people refer to the Black-Eyed Susan, they mean a flower from the Asteraceae family, and frequently, the one flower identified as the Black-Eyed Susan is Rudbeckia hirta. R. hirta is native to North America, and grows abundantly as a wildflower. Its pleasing appearance makes it a frequent choice of gardeners, too, who may grow either annual or perennial varieties of the plant.

Black-Eyed Susan is impressively tall for a flowering plant. It can be, at full height, between three to six feet (.91-1.82m) tall. Large flowers, sometimes up to 11 inches (27.94 cm) in diameter, spring from the plant in early summer. They enjoy a short blooming cycle, with most bushes finishing their blooming by August.

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Some people do not favor the Black-Eyed Susan where it grows wild. It may be seen more as a pesky weed, and an invasive one at that. Gardeners may have to work hard to keep the Black-Eyed Susan from taking over a garden, especially since most wild varieties will come back yearly. The height and width of the Black-Eyed Susan can choke or disrupt other cultivated plantings in a garden.

On the other, hand, for those who enjoy cultivating the plant, it tends to survive well in most climates. It prospers best in full sun and if you are planning on planting the seeds and ignoring them, you should always choose wild seeds to plant. These are often what are chosen as landscape features on highways, since the plants will do well with little attention, provided they receive a fair amount of sun. Cultivars of the Black-Eyed Susan for gardens usually require a little more attention and are more delicate.

Over-watering is always a mistake, since the Black-Eyed Susan can grow so tall, it may fall over when it blooms or slump with heavy winds. You can prop the plant up or tie it to stakes. Some even grow the Black-Eyed Susan as a flowering vine on trellises.

Since the Black-Eyed Susan proliferates throughout most of the United States, it has formed an important part of Native American medicine for many different tribes. It might be made into poultices to treat snakebites, used as a remedy for colds and coughs, or as an antiseptic. Some people also took Black-Eyed Susan internally to treat worms or intestinal upset. This may not be a terrific idea. There is some concern that ingesting the plant, especially a great deal of it, may poison cattle, and ranchers work hard to make certain cattle don’t have access to the plant.

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