Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wildflower Wednesday: Oenothera fruticosa

I love this little beauty. Love that it has spread around the garden and flowers just where a spot of golden yellow is needed in late spring. It doesn't mind my shallow soil, in fact, in nature it is often found growing on shallow, rocky soil. That makes it a perfect wildflower for Clay and Limestone. It's blooming and it's our May, Wildflower Wednesday star.
Oenothera fruticosa or Sundrops, is a spreading perennial wildflower with reddish evergreen winter rosettes.
Flowers are borne in racemes of 3-10 at the tips of the branches.
In mid-spring the rosettes send up slender reddish stems with narrow leaves that herald the arrival of the red flower buds. In late May the buds open to reveal lovely bright yellow saucer shaped flowers. Each flower has one day in the sun and fades by the late afternoon. Luckily for this gardener, the pretty yellow flower show lasts for several weeks, which more than makes up for its daily flower fading. 
An individual flower is about 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) across.
I do love sunny yellow flowers.

Have you noticed that each flower has four sepals at the end of a slender tube, orange stamens and a conspicuous 4-branched stigma that forms a cross or what always looks to me like a great big X?
In fact, members of the Onagraceae or evening primrose family are easily recognized by that X. They're the only flower with sepals that are conspicuously reflexed downward at the base of the flower or fruit capsule forming an X.
small carpenter bee visiting Sundrop

That X-marks the spot where native bees, beetles, butterflies, skippers and honeybees land to sup on the nectar and/or pollen of the Oenothera fruticosa flowers; where caterpillars of several moths feed on the foliage; and, where hummingbirds visit for nectar and to feed on small insects. By the time the Eastern goldfinch, mourning dove and other songbirds eat the seed, the X is gone, but, Oenothera fruticosa has done its job providing for wildlife.
Sundrops dancing with Echinacea pallida and Asclepias tuberosa
Plant Sundrops with Asclepias tuberosa, Coreopsis major, Monarda punctata, Liatris microcephala, Glandularia canadensis and Phlox pilosa.

They're perfect massed or allowed to roam~which ever style makes you happy. Just seeing their bright sunny yellow flowers makes me happy.

The particulars

Common Name: Sundrops, narrow leaf primrose
Herbaceous perennial 
Onagraceae Family
Growing Zone: 4 to 8
Native: Occurs from Quebec to Nova Scotia and Florida and west to Manitoba, Michigan, Missouri and Louisiana.

Size: 1.00 to 1.50 feet tall by 1.00 to 2.00 feet spread.
Bloom: Late May to June
Bloom color: Bright yellow
Light: Full sun to light shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Propagation: Collect and sow seeds in autumn or by divide the stoloniferous roots. Can also make stem tip cuttings in spring. If you bend the stems and cover with soil, they will root.
Tolerates drought, dry, rocky soil, shallow soil. But, would appreciate richer soil.
Comments: Let it naturalize in your wildflower, cottage or meadow planting
Attracts Wildlife: Butterflies, Songbirds, Pollinators and Hummingbirds
Deer, bunny and rodent resistant: So far!

Thanks for stopping by to help celebrate Wildflower Wednesday.

Wildflower Wednesday is about sharing wildflowers all over this great big beautiful world. It doesn't matter if we sometimes show the same plants, how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. I hope you join the celebration...It's always the fourth Wednesday of the month!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Sundrops is a delightful name for an enchanting flower.
    (In YOUR garden, evening primrose can be a problem here)

  2. I have a form of sundrop that looks just like this. A friend gave me a start. She called it a Norweigen Sundrop. hmmmm.... It was given to her by someone else. You know how these things go...

  3. Hi Gail,

    I'm trying sundrops for the first time in my garden this year (http://www.gardenofaaron.com/2016/05/class-of-2016-oenothera-fruticosa.html) and *really* liking the flowers so far.

    They don't seem highly attractive to pollinators yet, but I only have one plant. As with other flowers, perhaps I need a larger clump to grab the pollinators' attention?

    Hoping they spread in my garden as they have in yours!! :)

  4. I adore this flower...it is so bright and sunny....a great critter magnet. I planted a few and hope they come up! Love the companions you suggest too.

  5. I have grown this plant for years and never realized each blossom only lasts for a day. It was given to me as Primrose, and I knew it wasn't a primrose. Turns out it is related to the less well-behaved evening primrose. It is a tough little plant. When the gardener gave me a start from her garden, she just pulled it out of the ground as if it were a weed. Seeing my look of horror, she assured me the plant would do fine, and she was right!

    1. It is a tough plant and fortunately with nothing like it's cousin's aggressive!

  6. Sundrop is a very good name for this plant!

  7. I just posted my first ever Wildflower Wednesday blog entry and have added it to my schedule for 4th Wednesdays from here on it -- hope I can make time for it@
    BTW I have two neighbors who grow Sundrops across the entire front of their yards, so I have never felt the need to have my own - I just get to look across the street and enjoy theirs.

    1. That's great...I will pop over to see it!

  8. I really like them with the Phlox! I have Oenothera biennis growing in my garden, and I always know summer is in full swing when they're blooming. :)

  9. Last year, I began growing a similar plant, Prairie Sundrops (oenothera pilosella). I found its sunny flowers so delightful, I planted four more in another area this year. They seem to thrive in my tough clay soil, and I recall the leaves having a lovely reddish colour later in the year. I am looking forward to some colonizing!

    1. Oh that's great to know. I was wondering about that species. Thank you sharing. I will look for it.

  10. So beautiful! I love your photographs they capture the light and color perfectly. I love the single yellow flower in the field of burgundy clover!

    1. Isn't that a nice contrast Laurin...I like it, too. A happy accident for sure.

    2. Oenothera fruticosa sure looks different. Very nice !

  11. I think I have quite a few sundrops in our new garden space. The previous owners of our in town house were not gardeners (or cooks either by the looks of the kitchen) so we have pretty much had a clean slate to work with. Great fun!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson