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Flora Fact: Black-Eyed Susan

A lovely, prolific bloomer that's also low-maintenance.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Behold the noble, tall black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Resilient and sun-loving, this bright yellow, daisy-like species often gets overlooked during wildflower season in Texas. Its roots, though, reach far beyond the state's boundaries and into the past.

The flower's name likely comes from a popular ballad penned by English poet John Gay (1685-1732). Black-Eyed Susan told the sad story of a crying, lovelorn woman who boards a ship to bid her sailor farewell. Another historical tie: Caroleus Linnaeus, the "father of modern botany," named the flower's genus for his esteemed professor, Swedish botanist Olaf Rudbeck.

Actually, the flower's characteristic domed center looks more chocolate brown than black; hence, the species' other common name of "brown-eyed susan."

Endemic throughout North America, Rudbeckia hirta - a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae - blooms from May well into fall along roadsides, across prairies and pastures, and in open woodlands. They thrive in home gardens with little attention. As a cut flower, black-eyed susans last up to 10 days in a vase.

Long ago, Native Americans valued the species as a medicinal plant. Forest Potawatomis treated colds with a tea made from its roots. Cherokees used juice from the roots to cure earaches. A tea made from the dried leaves produces a "stimulating diuretic," according to Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West.

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