Annuals, 100–300 cm. Stems erect, usually hispid. Leaves mostly cauline; mostly alternate; petioles 2–20 cm; blades lance-ovate to ovate, 10–40 × 5–40 cm, bases cuneate to subcordate or cordate, margins serrate, abaxial faces usually ± hispid, sometimes gland-dotted. Heads 1–9. Peduncles 2–20 cm. Involucres hemispheric or broader, 15–40(–200+) mm diam. Phyllaries 20–30(–100+), ovate to lance-ovate, 13–25 × (3–)5–8 mm, (margins usually ciliate) apices abruptly narrowed, long-acuminate, abaxial faces usually hirsute to hispid, rarely glabrate or glabrous, usually gland-dotted. Paleae 9–11 mm, 3-toothed (middle teeth long-acuminate, glabrous or hispid). Ray florets (13–)17–30(–100+); laminae 25–50 mm. Disc florets 150+(–1000+); corollas 5–8 mm (throats ± bulbous at bases), lobes usually reddish, sometimes yellow; anthers brownish to black, appendages yellow or dark (style branches yellow). Cypselae (3–)4–5(–15) mm, glabrate; pappi of 2 lanceolate scales 2–3.5 mm plus 0–4 obtuse scales 0.5–1 mm. 2n = 34.
Phenology: Flowering summer–fall.
Habitat: Open areas
Elevation: 0–3000 m
St. Pierre and Miquelon, Alta., B.C., Man., N.B., N.W.T., N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que., Sask., Ala., Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Conn., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Idaho, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kans., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., Nebr., Nev., N.H., N.J., N.Mex., N.Y., N.C., N.Dak., Ohio, Okla., Oreg., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.Dak., Tenn., Tex., Utah, Vt., Va., Wash., W.Va., Wis., Wyo., Mexico, intoduced nearly worldwide.
Helianthus annuus is widely distributed, including weedy, cultivated, and escaped plants. It is the only native North American species to become a major agronomic crop. Despite its considerable variability, attempts have failed to produce a widely adopted infraspecific system of classification. Forms with red-colored ray laminae, known from cultivation and occasionally seen escaped, trace their ancestry to a single original mutant plant. It hybridizes with many of the other annual species.