Mexican Sunflower

Tithonia diversifolia (Hemsl.) A. Gray is an impressive member of the sunflower family, AsteraceaeTithonia was named for Tithonus, a legendary Trojan loved by the dawn goddess Eos, who turned him into a grasshopper. Tithonia diversifolia is a perennial native of Mexico and Central America and is cultivated for its beautiful flowers and enormous size. The plant’s flowers are a favorite of bees and African farmers have many uses for the plant, the most popular use being as an organic fertilizer for vegetable crops in either compost or a tea form.


The Legend of Tithonus and Eos

In Greek mythology, Tithonus was a handsome mortal who fell in love with Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Eos realized that her beloved Tithonus was destined to age and die. She begged Zeus to grant her lover immortal life.

Zeus was a jealous god, prone to acts of deception in order to seduce beautiful gods and mortals, and he was not pleased with Eos’s infatuation with a rival. In a classic Devil’s Bargain, he granted Eos’s wish — literally. He made Tithonus immortal, but did not grant him eternal youth.

As Tithonus aged, he became increasingly debilitated and demented, eventually driving Eos to distraction with his constant babbling.

In despair, she turned Tithonus into a grasshopper. In Greek mythology, the grasshopper is immortal. (In a close cultural parallel, the Chinese believed that locusts live forever). This myth also explains why grasshoppers chirp ceaselessly, like demented old men.

Plant Facts:

Common Name:  Mexican Sunflower

Botanical Name:   Tithonia diversifolia

Family:  Asteraceae

Plant Type:  Large, perennial, rangy shrub

Origin: Mexico and Central America

Zones: 8 – 11


Height:  Height and width to 12′ or more

Rate of Growth: Fast

Salt Tolerance: Medium

Soil Requirements:  Average, well-drained soil

Water Requirements: Requires regular watering in dry weather

Nutritional Requirements: Balanced liquid fertilizer monthly

Light Requirements: Full sun for best growth and flowering

Form:  Shrub

Leaves:  Palm shaped, medium green to 6″ wide

Flowers: Yellow, daisy-like, smell of honey — loved by bees and butterflies

Fruits: Gray, flattened, dry, one-seeded fruit hidden by papery, brown-tipped bracts

Pests or diseases:  Young foliage attacked by snails and slugs

Uses:  Screening, specimen plant


Bad Habits: Foliage damaged by frost, but recovers rapidly

Cost:  $$ — Very reasonable

Propagation:  Sow seeds in place

Sources (“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”):  A TO Z ENCYCLOPEDIA OF GARDEN PLANTS; FLORA: A GARDENER’S ENCYCLOPEDIA