Plant of the Week

Zinnia grandiflora range map.
Zinnia grandiflora range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Wild zinnia in a garden setting with the petals wet from an overnight rain.
Wild zinnia in a garden setting with the petals wet from an overnight rain. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Wild zinnias growing in profusion near the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Wild zinnias growing in profusion near the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Zinnia grandiflora.
Wild zinnia. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Wild Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)

By Steve Olson

Wild zinnia, also called prairie zinnia or Rocky Mountain zinnia, is a mounded perennial that grows 4-8 inches high and slowly spreads by rhizomes to become a groundcover. Papery yellow flowers cover the plants from mid-summer until frost. It thrives in rugged terrain preferring hot sunny spots with well-drained soil.

Zinnias are true American natives found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. There are about 17 different species of annuals and perennials with the best know being the common annual zinnia (Zinnia elegans) from which plant breeders have created a spectacular array of cultivars.

The wild zinnia is becoming more appreciated as a garden plant and it is now found on several lists of recommended water-wise plants for western gardeners. An internet search using the scientific name, Zinnia grandiflora, will lead you to several sources of plants and seeds. It is a sturdy spreading perennial once established, but it will not break dormancy or grow until early summer heat arrives, so be patient.

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Louisiana Trillium (Trillium ludovicianum).
Louisiana Trillium (Trillium ludovicianum)