Helianthus occidentalis (Few-leaf Sunflower)

Plant Info
Also known as: Naked-stem Sunflower, Western Sunflower
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; dry sandy or rocky soil; fields, prairies, open woods
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:2 to 5 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flowers] There are 1 to a few flowers at the end of long, naked, loosely branching stems at the top of the plant, with a small, leafy bract at the base of the branch. Flowers are 1½ to 2½ inches across, have 8 to 15 yellow rays (petals) and yellow center disk flowers.

[photo of bracts] The bracts behind the flowers are short, lance to nearly tear-drop shaped, tapering to a pointed tip, hairless or sparsely hairy on the surface and usually have short, fine hairs around the edges.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] There is a rosette of long-stalked leaves around the base of the plant, plus 1 to 4 pairs of small, widely spaced, oppositely attached stem leaves. Basal leaves are up to 4 inches long and 1½ inch wide that are oval to triangular in shape, with a blunt or pointed tip. The stem leaves are similarly shaped, with little or no stalk. All leaves are toothless or nearly so and are very rough to the touch. The stem is covered in appressed hairs and is often reddish brown.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

The center disk forms a head of dry seed, each about 1/8 inch long and without a tuft of hairs but with 2 short, bristly scales at the top.


Few-leaf Sunflower is easy to identify by the rosette of stalked, basal leaves and the pairs of small, widely spaced, stalkless leaves on the stem. There are 2 recognized subspecies, subsp. plantagineus, which has serrated, smooth leaves and is restricted to 3 southern states, and subsp. occidentalis, with rough, mostly toothless leaves found in Minnesota and much of the eastern half of the US.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Wild River State Park, Chisago County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Sherburne County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Sharon L Adams - NORTH BRANCH
on: 2018-07-20 23:23:14

Saw these flowers off of a walking trail heading north from downtown Wyoming, MN

Posted by: Nick - Steven's County
on: 2018-09-27 14:27:19

I believe I found some at a prairie in Steven's County, as well as in Glacial Lake State park. I took a few pictures, but as the flowers were not in bloom, had difficulty confidently identifying them.

Posted by: Lynn M Kratzke-Tempesta - Isanti
on: 2019-09-09 11:51:09

Walking down the street in ditch, was hard to distinguish between all the Maximilian Sunflowers. I picked both and came home to identify them, not many houses by us, lots of Acer's and a wild life management area with a lake(Lake Marget).

Posted by: gary - St. Louis County
on: 2019-09-15 20:56:30

I found this species in Duluth on the rocky slopes above Skyline Drive back in the 1980s and transplanted some to my parents land in Carlton County in an old field. The plants have slowly spread but the patch is not large. They produce many basal leaves but few flowering stems.

Posted by: Susan Cafferty - Kandiyohi
on: 2022-08-23 22:16:38

These grow in a colony on our farm in crp land

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