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Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Plant of the Week: Sweet Black-Eyed Susan

By Ayinde Listhrop | August 28, 2017

From the onset of early summer, you can always count on the familiar eye catching sight of the sweet black-eyed Susan, or Rudbeckia subtomentosa, to add a bright burst of color to the High Line. It comes in many varieties and goes by many names including black eyed susans, coneflowers, yellow Jerusalem and brown betties. They feature dense masses of brightly colored, yellow to orange attractive flowers which bloom from early summer through autumn. There are currently three kinds of Rudbeckia on the High Line: Rudbeckia subtomentosa, Rudbeckia fulgida and Rudbeckia missouriensis.

They are all North American native plants, truly born in the USA. Rudbeckia missouriensis is native to Missouri, while Rudbeckia subtomentosa and Rudbeckia fulgida are native to the southeastern and central parts of the United States. In their natural habitat they can be found in prairies, savannas, thickets, openings in deciduous woodlands, woodland borders, and river banks.

Aside from having an established place in horticulture as an ornamental plant, Rudbeckia subtomentosa and its cousins are a welcome sight for many insects who visit the flower for its nectar and pollen, including leaf-cutter and carpenter bees, various species of wasps, butterflies and beetles.

Historically, Rudbeckia has had many medicinal uses among the indigenous population of North America. The Chippewa tribe used infusions of the roots to treat worms in children and to treat snakebites. The Menominee and Potawatomi tribes took advantage of the plant’s diuretic properties to treat problems of the urinary tract. It was a common treatment for sores, bruises and swellings and juices from the roots were used as a remedy for earaches.

Today, Rudbeckia is still a valid treatment for the cold and flu, and its medicinal value has been revealed to go beyond initial assessments. Recent studies have shown that extracts from Rudbeckia roots are more effective at stimulating the immune system than its more famous medicinal cousin, the Echinacea. Rudbeckia subtomentosa specifically has recently been shown to contain chemical compounds that can be used to suppress the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.

Asteraceae flowers are composed of hundreds of individual flowers, surrounded by brightly colored ray florets.Ayinde Listhrop

The Rudbeckia genus contains approximately 25 plants, and was named by Swedish naturalist and explorer Carolus Linnaeus to honor his teacher – botanist Olaf Rudbeck. Linnaeus was the first to set the guidelines and boundaries for defining natural genera and species of organisms and to create the binomial nomenclature system of naming – which we still use today


Rudbeckia subtomentosa is a member of the Asteraceae, or daisy family of flowering plants. The Asteraceae family represents one of the largest and most recognizable family of flowering plants, containing more than 20,000 species of plants which can be found worldwide except for the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the planet. Asteraceae flowers usually sit on discs, and flower heads are composed of hundreds of flowers. Ray florets, extend from the flower head, as seen on the Rudbeckia subtomentosa’s yellow extensions. Many species of Asteraceae are go-to staples in the world of horticulture and ornamental gardening, several of which can be found right here on the High Line including our many Echinacea varieties, Aster, and Silphium.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa is relatively easy to establish. It is a low maintenance plant that loves to be planted in full sun. Plant in the spring or fall and divide every 3-4 years for the happiest plants. Prefers average to rich soils. To avoid the accumulation of mildew, avoid overhead watering and make sure the plant is not crowded in. Rudbeckia subtomentosa makes a fine addition to a prairie or meadow garden, not only adding color and dimension, but serving as a food source for our pollinators and many species of birds, who love the seeds!

USDA Zone 4-9

You can find Rudbeckia subtomentosa in the Chelsea Grasslands between 17th and 20th Streets.

Rudbeckia missouriensis can be found in the Meadow Walk, between 23rd and 25th Streets and the Pershing Square Beams on 30th Street, between 11th and 12th Avenues.

Rudbeckia fulgida can be found in the Meadow Walk, between 23rd and 25th Streets

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 500 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. Every week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects.

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TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.