Information About Black Eyed Susan Vine

Information About Black Eyed Susan Vine

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Container Grown Thunbergia: Growing A Black Eyed Susan Vine In A Pot

By Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Although it isn’t related to the familiar black-eyed susan, the orange or bright yellow blooms of black eyed susan vine are somewhat similar. Interested in container-grown Thunbergia? Growing black eyed susan vine in a pot couldn’t be easier. Learn more here.

Maryland Grows

Black-eyed Susans are easy to grow and will attract many pollinators to your garden. The dark center or eye of the flower head holds 250 to 500 individual flowers, and to pollinators, each one of these is a shallow nectar cup. These are shallow enough that even small wasps and flies can drink from them, and many small wasps and flies are predators or parasitoids of pest insects. These tiny, dark flowers bloom from the outer rim of the eye and progress inwards with time. It’s a buffet that attracts a wide variety of small to medium-sized pollinators, including many species of insects beneficial for pest control. This blog provides a few examples of the wonderful insects you can attract to the home garden by planting Black-eyed Susans.

A Black-eyed Susan isn’t a single flower, it’s actually hundreds. Notice the individual corollas of the “eye”, and the yellow pollen along the outer ring which indicates those flowers are in bloom. Watch a pollinator visit, and you’ll notice that they rotate around, drinking nectar from each one of the tiny blooms in this ring. The Metallic Green Bee, shown here, is a good example of the small bees that enjoy Black-eyed Susan’s big, soft, landing pad and shallow flowers. Notice the pollen packed onto the bee’s hind legs.

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Small butterflies like this Skipper enjoy Black-eyed Susans. Notice the proboscis, the long straw that the insect uses to sip nectar with.

Black-eyed Susans have a hidden superpower that draws in the bees. Can you see it? Notice how the subtle darkening toward the base of the yellow petals forms a bulls-eye circle around the disk. That darkening is actually caused by an ultraviolet pigment which bees can see much better than we do, and it forms a strong visual cue that leads them to the nectar and pollen at the flower’s center. The insect in this photo, however, is not a bee. Did you think it was? The strong black and gold color pattern is a deception! This is actually the Transverse Flower Fly, a type of Syrphid Fly, and a particularly common visitor on Black-eyed Susan. Syrphid Fly adults drink nectar, but their larvae are predators and help to control many pest insects such as aphids and whiteflies.

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This Black-eyed Susan is home to two “sit and wait” predators. At lower left is a Crab Spider, and climbing up the eye of the Susan is an Ambush Bug nymph. Both hide in or on a blossom until another insect happens by, then wham!

Wasps aren’t known for being effective pollinators, but the Scolid Wasps are an exception. Look at all the pollen on this one! I can’t find a common name for this wasp, but it is in the genus of Flower Wasps, and given the scientific name, I propose we call it the Noble Flower Wasp. In late summer you may see large numbers of these wasps flying low over a lawn. They are hunting the Japanese Beetle grubs that terrorize your lawn, so they are very beneficial insects indeed!

By Sara Tangren, Ph. D., Sr. Agent Associate, Sustainable Horticulture and Native Plants, and Christa Carignan, Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center

Master Gardener: Tips for planting the Black-eyed Susan vine

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Q. On my daily commute, I pass an industrial area that is enclosed by a fence covered with vines that have bright orange flowers with dark centers. They always seem to be nice and green and flowering. It looks like a perfect solution to a section of unsightly chain-link fence that I have at the back of my garden. Can you possibly identify it for me?

A. From your description, I suspect that the vine is Thunbergia alata, commonly called the Black-eyed Susan vine. This African native is a perennial vine in frost-free locations but is commonly grown as an annual in colder climates. In our mild Southern California climate, it is likely to live for many years without being killed or seriously damaged by cold weather.

Black-eyed Susan vine has a twining growth habit and should easily reach the top of your fence in a few months. The leaves are somewhat heart-shaped and the tubular flowers are up to two inches across. Although the orange flowers attracted your attention, there are many named cultivars that have flowers that are white, light yellow, apricot, and even a rosy color too. It grows best in full sun, is tolerant of most soil conditions, and will need normal garden water.

You may find container plants offered for sale at garden centers, as well as seeds. Container plants may be planted year-around, but if you decide to plant from seed, keep in mind that seeds of Black-eyed Susan vine grow best planted when the soil is warm in the spring or early summer.

If you choose to grow from seed and want to get an early start, you could plant your seeds indoors about six weeks before the spring planting season. Just fill small pots with a commercial seed -starting soil mix and plant one or two seeds per pot. Keep the soil in the pots lightly moist but not wet. It is likely to take close to two weeks for the seeds to germinate at normal room temperatures. Once they germinate, make sure the seedlings have strong, indirect light to prevent them from growing too lanky.

As spring planting time approaches, harden the seedlings off, then set the plants one to two feet apart along your fence. After planting in the ground, growth will be rapid, and flowering is likely to begin in about six weeks. Leftover plants do nicely in hanging baskets too.

One final comment, when shopping, you should be careful not to confuse the Black-eyed Susan vine, Thunbergia alata, with Black-eyed Susan plant, Rudbeckia hirta. Although their common names are similar, they are very different plants.

About this Product

Welcome the newest member of the Black Eyed Susan family -- bold, flower happy, formal black and white Black Eyed Susie!

As if arrayed in evening attire, this smart vine is prepared to dress up any part of your garden or even your containers. Let it race up a trellis, festoon the mailbox or pillar, or show off against a wall or fence.

Black Eyed Susie is very quick to bloom, offers a super long season of color, and has a classic color pattern that complements everything in the garden!

The blooms are a good size, held wide open and measuring about 1¼ to 1½ inches across. The petals are white (with hints of softest yellow toward the center), surrounding a bold black eye. And the blooms are VERY profuse, simply covering this 5 to 8 foot vine over a long early summer to frost season. Talk about long blooming -- Black Eyed Susie keeps you in color for up to 6 months!

If you like this Black Eyed Susan, take a look at her cousins Sunrise Surprise and Blushing Susie, both with rich mixed colors. And then there's the classic orange yellow variety that has been delighting gardeners for generations.

Happiest in full sun and moist, well drained soil, Black Eyed Susie should be sown directly into the soil or container in which she will be grown. Plant the seeds when the soil warms in spring, and in no time you'll be training up this vigorous little vine and enjoying its big bounty of bright color!

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