This once-ubiquitous garden annual was out of fashion for decades, but is now making a comeback. It never really went out of style in old city neighborhoods where gardeners still grow their gardens from seed. It’s also happy to escape from gardens and go wild wherever it finds an opportunity. Here we see one that sprouted against the curb at the edge of a busy street in Beechview, where it found just enough soil to flourish and bloom in late July.
Gray does not list this species, so we turn to Williamson Nevin Geddes, who describes many commonly cultivated plants in his Brief Flora of the Eastern United States (1904).
ZÍNNIA, L. Annual or perennial, American, chiefly Mexican herbs, with opposite, mostly sessile and entire leaves, and solitary terminal heads of showy tubular and radiate, variously colored flowers. Disk flowers perfect, with 5 velvety lobes. Rays pistillate, persistent on the akenes. Involucral scales imbricated, in several rows. Receptacle conical or at length cylindrical, its chaff clasping the disk flowers. Akenes of disk compressed, their pappus of 1 to 2 awns; those of the rays 3-angled, without pappus.
Z. élegans, Youth and Old Age. L. A Mexican annual, 1° to 3° high, the parent of most of the garden Zinnias, with ovate-elliptic, clasping leaves 2′ to 3′ long, peduncles longer than the leaves and smaller upward, and heads 2′ to 5′ wide. Rays reflexed, originally in a single series, purple or lilac, but by cultivation double and of nearly every color, except blue and green, from white to dark purple. Disk flowers originally yellow or orange, but in the double forms nearly or entirely wanting. Pales serrated. Akenes of disk 2-awned. July to Oct.