Sunday, September 30, 2012

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Henry Eilers


Henry Eilers rudbeckia


It was love at first sight when I met Henry Eilers. The plant, that is.

This wasn't just another Tom, Dick or Harry. Or even another Black-Eyed Susan. This was a tall, stately flower with petals that curled under to become quills, a flower that would shout a cheery "welcome home"  when I pulled up in the driveway after a hard day at work.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers' has now graced my front yard for two years and is the star of the late summer/early fall garden. Its flowers are just starting to fade after blooming for more than a month, despite the ongoing drought.

But then Henry Eilers, also known as the sweet coneflower, is made of pretty strong stuff.

It hails from downstate Illinois where it was found just south of Springfield along Historic Route 66. This was one of the nation's first highways and became known as the Mother Road during the Dust Bowl days as people drove from Chicago to California in search of a better life. A younger generation knows it as the road featured in the Pixar movie "Cars."

Henry Eilers
Route 66 in Illinois was originally surrounded by tallgrass prairie -- most of which has long since vanished. Henry Eilers, the plant, was found in an undisturbed 8-acre remnant of that prairie which Henry Eilers, the man, and others are now working to preserve.

A retired nurseryman, Eilers has been active in the several conservation efforts near his hometown of Litchfield for many years. His name even graces a local 250-acre nature preserve on Shoals Creek.

Henry Eilers, the plant, is every bit as hard-working as its finder. It likes full sun but does well in the slightly shady spot where I have it planted. In addition to having a long bloom period, it makes a great cut flower. The leaves also smell like vanilla if crushed or dried.

The only apparent drawback is its height. This plant supposedly gets to be about 5-6 feet tall, which might require staking. In my garden, however, it has only gotten about 3 feet tall so far. That could be because both summers have had their share of 100-degree days which may have limited growth. I know that has been the case at several local prairies.

On the other hand, it could be that my plant was mislabeled. There's now a 'Little Henry' variety that only gets about 3 feet tall. Such things do happen.



Henry Eilers rudbeckia mums asters
Henry Eilers with asters and mums at the Chicago Botanic Garden
Guess I'll have to wait for a more "normal" year -- whatever that is -- to make such a determination. If Henry ever does get that tall, it will probably have to be moved to another part of the garden.

Whatever the final verdict, though, it's definitely sticking around. Henry Eilers is a nice complement to asters and mums. And I'll never find a cheerier, harder working plant to take its place.

By Karen Geisler



Henry Eilers Chicago Botanic English Walled Garden
Henry Eilers at the Chicago Botanic Garden English Walled Garden


8 comments:

  1. This plant is so unique. Never seen one before. Very beautiful!

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  2. I've noticed other garden bloggers recommend it, too. I like it! Especially planted adjacent to Asters and Mums. Thanks for all the great background information, too. I love these stories about how plants were discovered and named.

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    1. So do I. Turns out one of my former supervisors got his start in the horticulture business working for Henry Eilers in high school! I didn't know that until this was posted. Talk about a small world!

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  3. Karen I love Henry too. I have him planted in a moist part sun area where he has now grown to 5 feet tall and a little taller. I had not smelled the leaves but will. I love the story of how it was found. I may have to move Henry to a few other areas now.

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    1. I'm planning to add more Henry as well. Seems like I always have too much that blooms in the spring and summer and not enough in the fall.

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  4. What a great-looking plant. Any recommendations on where to find it?

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    1. It's probably too late this year, but I know my favorite nursery carries it and there are probably other. Ask for it by name.

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  5. I don't have any of the R. subtomentosa. Sigh, another plant to put on my wish list.

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