Red Sunflowers: Are They Real?

Red sunflower is an unusual yet mesmerizing sunflower with vivid red petals and dark center symbolizing wealth, good luck, strength, love, passion, lust and positivity. It is much branched bushy herb attaining height of 1.5-2m or 3 m. It is a very unrealistic herbaceous annual or perennial flower belonging to the family Asteraceae (Compositae). Botanically called Tithonia rotundifolia, the flower is known by several other names including Red sunflower, Giant Mexican sunflower, Japanese sunflower, Mexican sunflower, Shrub sunflower and Tree marigold. 

Sunflower got its name due to the sun facing nature of young flowers and red sunflower got its name from its vibrant red petals. Tree marigold seems the most appropriate name for this flower as it has a height of up to 6 feet and its flower resembles marigold rather than sunflower. 

It is originated in Central America and Mexico and naturally distributed in Australia, south-eastern USA and many islands in the Pacific Ocean. It loves dry bushy slopes, damp thickets, savanna grasslands, degraded lands, and roadsides to grow. Nowadays people are growing this plant for its eye-catching fancy beauty (aesthetic and ornamental purpose).


Young stems are slightly ridged and hairy (pubescent). It has a slightly woody stem at base but weak in the middle.


It has alternately arranged stalked (2-10 cm long) oval to triangular leaves having fine hairs on its lower surface. Generally its leaves are grayish-green in color and turn brittle when dried out. Its leaf blade is 6-33 cm long and 5-22cm wide having 3-7 pointed lobes with serrated margins.


Mature Red Sunflower Flower

It bears bright orange- red round flowers on the top of stem with diameter up to 10 cm depending upon variety. Flowers are borne on the terminal of main and side branches are much swollen and velvety below heads. Its flower buds are pointed and bear 2 series narrow pointed bracts on the flower. There are 7- 20 petals per ray of flower and flowers from July to fall.


It bears round spiky masses of single seed bearing fruits that are brown in color. Talking about the dimension of fruit, it is less than 1 inch in length and width.

Also Read: Kuska Plant: English name, Care & Benefits

Taxonomic Classification

Clade Tracheophytes
Clade Angiosperms
Clade Eudicots
Order Asterids 
Family Asteraceae
Genus Tithonia
Species T.rotundifolia


This sunflower is considered as a kid and pet friendly flower but if its seeds are ingested it can be extremely toxic to humans and pets. 

USDA Growing zone 

Red sunflower is grown as a cold hardy perennial in the USDA zones 9-11 and  grown annually in USDA zones lower than zone 10. 

Care and Management

The quick overview of care and management of Red sunflower is tabulated below:-

LightFull sun ( 6 or more direct sunlight hours)
Temperature70-85°F (soil temperature)
Soil Well-drained, Clay, loam (silt), sandy, shallow rocky, acidic soil.
Water Two times per week until establishment 
Humidity High humidity 
Fertilizers Do not need fertilizers
Spacing12- 24 inch
PruningPractice deadheading  the spent blooms

The detailed explanation of care and management of Red sunflower is:


Red sunflower loves full sunlight with 6 or more hours of direct sunlight to perform best. Poor sunlight leads to spindly, lanky and flop plants with less profuse flowering.


Red sunflower is extremely sensitive to frost and cold weather and loves warm and high humid climates with an ideal soil temperature ranging from 70°F to 85°F. So, it is better not to grow it outdoors until night temperature reaches 60°F or above.


Unlike other flowers, red sunflowers love low-nutrient soil with good drainage capacity. It performs better on sandy and acidic soils that resemble native soil of Mexico where it grows wild.

Water and Humidity

It is a drought tolerant plant so do not need watering after establishment but young seedlings need deep watering twice a week. Watering should be done at the base of the plant during morning hours. Wetting of foliage during watering should be avoided to protect plants from mildew. When planting red sunflowers in areas getting more than average rainfall it should be provided with sufficient drainage. Average to high humidity is good for red sunflowers but if the area is too humid provide extra spacing to prevent powdery mildew.


As it is no to low maintenance plant it does not need any fertilizers. However adding some organic manure before planting can be beneficial in case of areas with depleted soil. Interestingly, they can be chopped and dropped in the garden to add fertilizers in the garden soil that can be utilized by other plants.

Pruning and training

Deadheading is the most important thing to know while growing a red sunflower. Deadheading is simply removal of fading or dead flowers from the plants to encourage more blooms and keep plants more attractive. It also gives your plant a bushier look. Your plant will grow too tall and will bear lesser flowers if not deadheaded. The seeds will also be dispersed in your garden and become invasive if not deadheaded. Hence deadheading prevents your red sunflower from becoming invasive and provides your plant with more blooms and bushier look.

Cultivars/Varieties of Red Sunflower

Red sunflower is gaining popularity among gardeners not only due to its rapid growing and low maintenance nature but also its numerous excellent varieties. 

Its most common vibrant cultivars are:-

1. Fiesta Del Sol 

The first dwarf Mexican sunflower, Fiesta Del Sol is 2000 AAS (All America Selection) winner. It grows up to a height of 2-3 feet and bears single, orange daisy flowers.

2. Goldfinger

It bears a large number of orange-red flowers with contrasting yellow centers and green well-branching foliage.

3. Torch 

It is a 1951 AAS ward winner and most loved cultivar by gardeners since 1950s. It bears bright orange flowers with3 inches diameter and grows upto 4-6 feet of height.

4. Yellow torch

It bears apricot yellow-orange flowers. It is strongly branched and full of blooms all summer.


Red sunflower is propagated by both seed and cuttings.  While propagating, it should be kept in mind that it does not need soil that is rich in nutrient and organic matter, rather it loves well-drained sandy and degraded soil.

1. Growing Red sunflower with seeds

It is an easy way of propagating red sunflowers. In warmer zones it can be sown directly outdoors two weeks after last frost date but in cooler zones it should be propagated indoors before 6-8 weeks of last frost date for earlier bloom and to protect it from frost.

As it needs light for germination, seed should be sown at a shallow depth. Due to their tall and abundantly branched nature they need spacing of 12- 24 inch.

If you are willing to plant this incredible plant in a container or pot, sow seeds directly to the pot otherwise it will be difficult to transplant large plants. Soilless potting mix with good drainage will be the best choice to grow red sunflower. Make sure that the pot you are using is breathable for plants and has a large drain hole. Dwarf varieties of Red sunflowers will be better to grow in pots.

2. Growing Red sunflower from cutting

In general every point on its stem has the ability to grow. If you cut and throw its stem on the ground it will develop roots and grow into a new flower. But growing Red sunflower from cuttings is not as easy as growing it from seeds if you are willing to grow it in a container and transplant. It needs more care and attention while propagating from cuttings. Here is step by step guide to grow red sunflower from cuttings:

  • Take stems as you need from red sunflowers and cut them into 12 inch pieces with sharp pruners.
  • Remove all leaves leaving only 2 pairs of leaves on the stem. Cutting cannot support large leaves so cut them into half.
  • Plant one cutting in one pot with large drain holes and loose potting medium after making soil moist by watering.
  • While planting, insert 6 inches of stem into soil and compact the soil around the stem with gentle force.
  • Place the pot in a spot with filtered sun and water daily to get cuttings to root.
  • It is expected for cuttings to get roots in about 10 days.
  • They will be ready to transplant outdoors after developing a strong root system (in about 6 weeks) or if you see their roots growing out of the pot drain holes.

Harvesting red sunflower

Red sunflower is ready to harvest after full bloom to use as cut flower and for making flower bouquets. When harvesting fresh it should be done in the morning or in the evening hours.

  • If you are willing to keep its seeds for next year, wait till the head turns brown and leaves have dropped. 
  • Cut the head along with the stem (one foot from head) using sharp pruners and keep it in a paper bag. You should know that plastic bags are not preferred.
  • Hang those bags upside down in a cool and well ventilated room and check regularly.
  • You can see the seeds freely falling from head when dry.
  • Collect the seeds, clean and dry them thoroughly.
  • Use a sealed bag to store these seeds. 
  • Store seeds in a cool and dry place.

Benefits of Red sunflower

Red sunflower is mostly grown for its adorable looks to decorate home gardens for ornamental purposes. But it is loaded with other massive benefits that we are unaware of. Let’s discuss its benefits in detail.

1. Ornamental and aesthetic use

  • You can use this flower to decorate your living room, kitchen, study room, or restaurant to add beauty to your surroundings.
  • As this flower symbolizes love and lust you can give a red sunflower bouquet to your bride mate, she will love receiving this. 
  • Its fancy look will uplift your mood wherever you place it. 
  • Its fast-growing ability and attractiveness is sure to enhance the beauty of your garden. 

2. Adds organic matter to our yard

  • As it grows massively, its biomass can be useful to add organic matter to your yard. While using them it should be finely chopped so that it does not grow wild and become invasive.
  • By this way it will provide nutrients to soil as much as chicken manure does. So it is considered as vegan manure.

3. Pollinator friendly

  • Red sunflower is rich in nectar so bees love to visit this flower. These bees while traveling around your garden will pollinate flowers there.
  • This flower also attracts butterflies towards it.

4. Medicinal benefits

Various studies conducted to find medicinal benefits show that;

  • Methanol extracted from its dried leaves is traditionally used in treatment of painful inflammatory conditions.
  • 80%ethanol extract of leaves is useful in treatment of Type2 diabetes by lowering the blood glucose level.
  • Constipation, stomach pain, indigestion, sore throat and liver pains are treated by using infusion of its leaves.
  • Antimicrobial property present in its leaves is active against bacteria hence aids in treatment of gastrointestinal infections, skin diseases, and urinary tract infections.
  • Sometimes decoction of its leaves is found to have been used in the treatment of malaria.

5. Culinary use

  • Its vibrant petals can be used to decorate salads and dinner plates.
  • Its seeds can be roasted as snacks or used as an ingredient to detox water.
  • Oil extracted from Red sunflower seeds is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and easy to digest.

6. Nutritional benefits

 Red sunflower seeds loaded with vitamins, minerals and healthy fats hold high nutritional value. Even a small package of red sunflower contributes significantly to meeting the daily nutritional requirement.

Pros and Cons

Pros Cons 
Rapid growingBecome invasive if not deadheaded in time
Drought tolerant Frost sensitive
Pollinators friendly Seeds if ingested are highly toxic
Provide classy look to garden  
Requires no to low fertilizers 


Cultivar Price Source 
Red Torch $4.95 per 100 seedsThe gardeners workshop
Goldfinger $10 per 100 seedsAmazon 
Fiesta Del Sol$ 1.5 per 15 seeds Pinetree garden seeds 

Final verdict

Red sunflower is the best choice to grow if you are willing to give your garden a classy look. It’s easy growing and hardy nature along with vibrant flowers will not let you regret your choice. Simply provide full sunlight, enough drainage and deadhead spent flowers and your plant will provide you with bloom after bloom.


  • Sochan Limbu

    A graduate of the Agriculture and Forestry University, Nepal, Mr. Sochan Limbu is an agriculture professional. The author has worked in the gardening field for more than three years and has practical knowledge on how to handle and care for succulents. Get started gardening with his articles.

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