A picture-perfect monarch butterfly, fresh out of its chrysalis, was sipping nectar from a pot of dwarf Black-eyed Susans on our deck this morning. Summer wouldn't be summer without both of them, monarchs and Susans. And the latter are in full bloom in meadows and along roadsides throughout the Hudson Valley as July winds down, with butterflies of all colors fluttering in for nourishment while nectar-drinking bees buzz busily about.
As the late New England naturalist Hal Borland noted in our book A Countryman's Flowers, "Black-eyed Susan's eyes aren't really black at all. They are a purplish-brown." Thus another colloquial name, one that you seldom hear anymore, is "Brown Betty." This cheerful and vigorous wildflower with golden-orange rays that often twist and curl is a native of Midwestern prairies, but it crossed the Mississippi ages ago and is found today from Newfoundland to Alabama.
A member of the aster family and known to botanists as Rubeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan is a biennial that propagates from its seeds, the new plants flowering in their second year. Quite a few cultivars have been developed as popular garden flowers with imaginative names like "Indian Summer, "Goldsturm" and "Marmalade." Whether wildlings or nursery flowers, as Hal wrote, "They are bright and jaunty and full of summer sun." And come winter, their abundant seeds will fuel flocks of goldfinches and other small birds.