Is Black Eyed Susan The Same As Rudbeckia? (Plus other lookalikes)

bouquet of black eyed susan and sunflower

When I started growing black-eyed Susan in my garden, I often saw it referred to by other names in my seed catalogs. The same happened in the index of a gardening book or photo captions: I was often redirected to look up Rudbeckia, brown-eyed Susan, or even cornflower.

This led me to do some research on how to get all the names used for black-eyed Susan straight and figure out if any are the same flower. In particular, I wanted to know if rudbeckia was the same flower or just a close relative since the name was used almost interchangeably with black-eyed Susan.

So are they the same plant? Indeed they are.

Black-eyed Susan is the common name for the Rudbeckia flower, meaning that both terms refer to the same plant. Many species of rudbeckia result in biennial or perennial varieties, but all are commonly referred to as black-eyed Susan.

With over 25 species of rudbeckia, it’s no wonder there’s confusion over which flower is which. My research helped me understand all the distinctions and keep things straight.

It can get confusing, so here’s a cheat sheet:

Common nameSpeciesPopular varietiesAppearance
Black-eyed SusanRudbeckia hirtaIndian Summer
long yellow petals, brown center
Irish Eyesyellow and orange petals, green center
Cherokee Sunsetmix of yellow, orange, red petals, brown center
Black eyed SusanRudbeckia fulgidaGoldsturmyellow petals, brown center
Brown eyes SuanRudbeckia trilobaRudbeckia trilobayellow petals, brown center, smaller flowers
Gloriosa DaisyRudbeckia hirtaGloriosa Daisy
bicolor petals with yellow and rust, brown center
Gloriosa Double Daisyyellow petals, double blooms, brown center
ConeflowerEchinacea purpureaPurple Coneflower
pink petals that point down, red-brown center
Cheyenne Spiritmix of red, yellow, white, pink flowers
SunflowerHelianthus annusSunfinityyellow petals, brown disk center
Helios Flamebicolor petals with yellow and rust

Are black-eyed Susan and rudbeckia the same flower?

The most commonly interchanged name for black-eyed Susan is rudbeckia. But just because something happens often doesn’t mean it’s accurate. In this case, are the terms black-eyed Susan and rudbeckia interchangeable?

Black eyed Susan flowers are the common name of the plant Rudbeckia, so they are the same plant. There are biennial species of rudbeckia, called Rudbeckia hirta, and perennial species known as Rudbeckia fulgida. Both types of rudbeckia are frequently called black-eyed Susan.

A few characteristics make each species unique, even if they’re typically called by the same name.

Rudbeckia hirta

Rudbeckia hirta is the biennial species commonly grown as an annual. This black-eyed Susan can be sown in the fall, overwintered, and left to bloom the following spring. The plant will bloom profusely all summer, then die back once the temperatures drop low enough to freeze.

When treated as an annual, you can plant it early in the spring and get blooms the first year. I wrote another post all about black-eyed Susan’s bloom times in this post, Black Eyed Susan: First Year Blooms And Other Flowering Questions. Check it out if you want to get more details.

Even though the original plant probably won’t survive a second winter, new plants will pop up in the spring due to self-sowing. Black-eyed Susans are great self-sowers, dropping seeds in the fall and propagating themselves for future seasons.

Indian summer Black Eyed Susan
Indian Summer black eyed Susan. Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

If you want a biennial black-eyed Susan to grow as an annual, try the popular variety Indian Summer. At 3-4 feet in height, this variety looks gorgeous in mass plantings, and the long stems and strong blooms make an excellent cut flower. They also attract pollinators, so they’re great to grow next to a vegetable garden to increase the presence of bees and butterflies.

Rudbeckia fulgida

Rudbeckia fulgida is a true perennial and doesn’t need to rely on self-sowing. As a perennial, the plant will survive through the winter and return with new growth in the spring. You can save seeds from this variety if you want to have more plants elsewhere in your garden.

You don’t need to divide this particular perennial since the center of the plant continues growing, unlike some perennials whose centers slowly die back as the plant grows outward.

The most popular perennial black-eyed Susan, or Rudbeckia fulgida, is called Goldsturm. It grows to only 2-3 feet tall, and it matures to a bushy mass almost as wide as it is tall. The petals tend to point downward away from the center, and it maintains the typical golden yellow color.

gold sturm Black Eyed Susan flowers
Goldsturm black-eyed Susan

The flowers are long-lasting in the vase, so if you grow this variety, be sure to pick a handful for a simple bouquet.

Like other varieties, Goldsturm is excellent at attracting beneficial insects and pollinators with its nectar-rich center. Just wait for the butterflies to come to visit, and you’ll be glad that this black-eyed Susan will return year after year.

What’s the difference between black-eyed Susan and brown-eyed Susan?

If there weren’t enough confusion, there’s one more common species of rudbeckia that often gets lumped under the name of black-eyed Susan. Still, they are different plants and deserve distinct names.

Black-eyed Susan and brown-eyed Susan refer to the same genus of plant, Rudbeckia, but they are two different species. Brown-eyed Susan is officially called Rudbeckia triloba and has a branching growth habit with sprays of smaller flowers, whereas black-eyed Susan produces large flowers on single stems.

Rudbeckia triloba

Just like black-eyed Susan and Rudbeckia hirta, brown-eyed Susan is the common name for Rudbeckia triloba. The two flowers are related as rudbeckias, but their appearance is quite distinct and makes it easy to tell them apart.

Brown-eyed Susan grows quite tall, topping out between four and five feet. This is a good bit taller than black-eyed Susan, which usually maxes out at four feet tall.

The flowering habit is also different, as brown-eyed Susan produces branching sprays of smaller flowers that cover the whole plant. On the other hand, black-eyed Susans are more upright, with central stalks making one large flower each.

Rudbeckia triloba

You can see another difference in the leaves. The leaves of black-eyed Susan are oblong with straight edges, kind of like the ear of a wild hare. Brown-eyed Susan leaves are still oblong but shorter, and the leaves at the base of the plant have deep lobes. This is where the name triloba comes in, to reference the shape of this species’ leaves with three lobes.

They do have one thing in common, though. Brown-eyed Susans make excellent cut flowers, just like black-eyed Susan. The spray of flowers is gorgeous on its own in the vase, or it can be used as a backdrop for other flowers, so grab yourself a handful and bring the sunshine inside.

The Wisconsin Horticulture Extension Office has some in-depth information about brown-eyed Susan plants if you want to learn more about them for your own garden.

Are black-eyed Susans daisies?

Another common lookalike that gets lumped together with black-eyed Susan flowers is the daisy. There’s even a variety of black-eyed Susan called Gloriosa daisy. So are they the same flower? Not quite.

Black-eyed Susan is part of the daisy plant family, Asteraceae. Even though both flowers share the same family and have a similar shape, they are distinct and different species. Flowers referred to as daisies include Shasta, Gerbera, and Marguerite species, while black-eyed Susans refer to the Rudbeckia species.

Both species have similar growing requirements and have biennial and perennial varieties. A round central disk surrounded by a ray of petals completes a similar look. True daisies have petals in various colors, such as white, pink, and lavender, while black-eyed Susan stays in the golden yellow and orange shades.

There is a variety of black-eyed Susan called Gloriosa Daisy, which is part of the Rudbeckia hirta species. Talk about blurred lines! It has the look of a black-eyed Susan with orange and gold petals but happens to bear the name daisy. The growth habit is similar to other popular black-eyed Susan varieties, with plants reaching three to four feet tall.

Gloriosa daisies

You can also find Gloriosa Double Daisy, which produces, you guessed it, flowers with double petals. Some varieties, such as the original Gloriosa Double Daisy, have double blooms in the signature golden yellow. You can still see the brown center among the petals.

Other varieties, like Moppet, have such an abundance of petals that the center is completely covered, and the flower heads look like puffballs.

Daisies make great companion plants with black-eyed Susan. Find out why and get other ideas in this post, Companion Plants For Black Eyed Susan: Garden and Bouquet.

Are black-eyed Susans considered coneflowers?

Black-eyed Susan and coneflowers belong to the same plant family Asteraceae, the daisy family. Otherwise, they are different plants. Black-eyed Susan is part of the Rudbeckia genus, and coneflowers are part of the echinacea genus. Even with the distinction, some people refer to black-eyed Susan as a coneflower.

How’s that for confusing?

Basically, black-eyed Susan and coneflower are like cousins. They’re in the same family, but not quite siblings. Just as a stranger might say that you look a lot like your cousin, some people say that black-eyed Susan looks a lot like coneflowers. Both flowers have long, thin stems, a round, protruding center, and long, tapered petals.

However, a few giveaways show you which flower is which. Coneflowers, also known as echinacea, have pokey bristles in the center disk. The petals tend to grow downward, away from the center.

There used to only be white and pink coneflower varieties, known as Echinacea purpurea, but new varieties such as Cheyenne Spirit were bred to produce orange and yellow colors similar to black-eyed Susan.

Are black-eyed Susans related to sunflowers?

The final flower that bears a resemblance to black-eyed Susan and is mistakenly given the same name is the sunflower.

Sunflowers are related to black-eyed Susans because they are both in the Asteraceae family, but they are distinctly different species. Black-eyed Susan is in the Rudbeckia genus, and sunflowers are in the Helianthus genus. Both flowers have golden yellow petals and brown centers, so they are visually similar.

Some varieties of both sunflowers and black-eyed Susan have bicolor petals that look strikingly similar, such as in this bouquet from my garden. Can you spot the sunflower?

bouquet of black eyed susan and sunflower
Can you spot the sunflower mixed into this bouquet of black eyed Susans? It’s tough!

That’s where most of the similarity ends, despite the family ties. To start, with the exception of specially bred dwarf varieties, sunflowers grow taller than black-eyed Susans, reaching an average height of six feet.

The leaves of black-eyed Susan are concentrated at the bottom of the plant, creating a bushy structure that the flower stems grow out of. For single stem sunflowers, one central stalk grows up with leaves every so often up the stem. Branching sunflowers have one main stalk, and many side stems with leaves scattered throughout.

The center of a sunflower is a flat disk, while the center of a black-eyed Susan is a round button, though both centers are usually dark brown. Some varieties of each plant have green-hued centers as the result of plant breeding.

All but one type of sunflower are true annuals, meaning they grow for only one season. Seeds must be replanted for each new season, whereas black-eyed Susan is either biennial or perennial and return more than once.

I think it’s safe to say that even though black eyes Susans and sunflowers are related, they’re more like distant cousins than siblings.

For even more details about black-eyed Susans and how to grow them, check out this post: Black-Eyed Susan: A Complete Guide To Growing.

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