Tithonia diversifolia (Hemsl.) A. Gray is an impressive member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae. Tithonia 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.
Common Name: Mexican Sunflower
Botanical Name: Tithonia diversifolia
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
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