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The Yellow Coneflower, Ratibida pinnata, AKA Gray-headed Coneflower is an iconic and ubiquitous prairie forb whose image is included in the logo of the Ohio Prairie Association. The bright yellow flowers are borne atop a 3–4-foot plant with petals recurved like a badminton shuttlecock. The central disc forms an egg-shaped knob (cone) that appears brown when in full bloom but transitions to gray-green as seeds mature. Blooms appear in early to late summer and last for months. While the flower is not especially fragrant, the mature ‘cone’ releases an anise-like scent when crushed. The long, slender leaves are pinnately lobed like irregular fingers and commonly concealed on the lower reaches of the plant commingling with other vegetation. The species name, ‘pinnata’ is descriptive of the leaves.
The Yellow Coneflower is easy to grow and performs best in full sun in medium to poor soil. Tolerant of most soil types, it thrives in moist or dry conditions once established. Its deep roots allow it to enjoy the hottest and driest weeks of summer. Rich or wet locations may produce top-heavy plants that bend over or flop. Once roots are well established, side shoots may emerge to form dense clumps.
Flowers are heavily visited by a variety of native bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Many birds, especially goldfinches, feed on the seed. Yellow Coneflower is an excellent choice in a wildflower garden because of its large, abundant flowers and long bloom period. It is tough and resilient, needing little care once established.
When started from seed, don’t expect flowers the first year since it is putting its strength into its vigorous and fibrous roots. It will spread by seed if there is open ground and good for naturalizing in larger plantings. It is considered deer resistant but may be browsed by other herbivores.
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