Amazing annuals; Tithonia

Just a bit more exotic than your average sunflower, tithonias are worth a try in a sheltered garden.

Red Admiral butterfly on Tithonia rotundifolia

There are about ten species of tithonia, all native to Central America and the south west of the USA, but just one, T. rotundifolia, commonly cultivated. A Mexican native, it is a tall, shrubby annual with large, roughly hairy or felted, lobed leaves. To be frank, it is a rather coarse plant but that very coarseness is a redeeming feature when it is used with cannas, dahlias and ricinus in a subtropical planting scheme. The flowers are spectacular too, up to 10cm across and of a rich orange, with slightly paler disc florets. They are rather like singe dahlias but have greater substance. Each bloom is long lasting and they attract butterflies, especially Monarchs in the USA.

They are not particularly difficult to grow but they dislike wet and cold so delay sowing till April if you do not have ideal conditions. Sow at 20c and transplant the seedlings into well drained compost in pots and plant out after the risk of frost has passed. A sunny, sheltered spot is essential, then, with good watering and feeding, plants can grow 1.5-2m high. ‘Torch’ is a selection that is slightly more compact than the species.

To keep plants looking good it is well worth removing old flowers. Old, lower leaves wither and turn black and in autumn the leaves often shrivel, leaving the last flowers shining on gawky skeletons.

In warm climates, this can be a wonderful plant, but where it struggles it is less satisfactory.



5 Comments on “Amazing annuals; Tithonia”

  1. summercloud
    January 27, 2021 at 1:27 am #

    I’m looking forward to your comments on zinnias! I read an article once that commented it took a very formal bed to make zinnias look graceful. I love the flowers but how does one deal with the awkward plants…?
    I need to look up your sweat pea advice too as last year I failed miserably.

    • thebikinggardener
      January 27, 2021 at 9:45 am #

      mmm – zinnias are a bit gawky – I will have to think about that – only a few days to go!

      • summercloud
        January 27, 2021 at 10:37 pm #

        Well I read all your posts on your sweet pea cordon and I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably don’t have the patience for all of that! But I may continue my research into what cultivar would do well in our hot and humid summers and go casual with those.
        Thanks again for all of these posts! I’ve been having a lot of fun with them.

      • tonytomeo
        January 28, 2021 at 7:06 am #

        ? Really? I would not have expected you to say that about zinnias. Everyone likes zinnias . . . although I think they look a bit too cartoonish, like something Mickey Mouse picks for Minnie Mouse.
        Embarrassingly (again) I have never grown tithonia. I have noticed it a few times in nurseries, but never found an excuse to try it.

        • thebikinggardener
          January 28, 2021 at 8:16 am #

          You are absolutely right that zinnias look like cartoon flowers – and I would put money on the fact that Disneyland is planted with them!

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