Grayhead Coneflower 101 – Complete Guide to Ratibida Pinnata


If you are looking for a stunning medium sized flower that blooms for a long time, then Gray-head coneflower is a great choice. With bright yellow blooms lasting up to two months, this drought tolerant perennial is tough, deer resistant, and beautiful. Read on to learn all you need to know to grow this wonderful plant!

Ratibida pinnata rising above Rudbeckia hirta

Gray-Headed Coneflower is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the United States. Scientifically known as Ratibida pinnata, this showy yellow flower will bloom up to two months in summer., It’s drought tolerant, attracts a wide variety of pollinators (mostly bees), and is easily grown from seed.

Image Credit Sixflashphoto

But this is a lovely flower when planted en mass.  When you see these dotting a wildflower prairie or natural garden it is really gorgeous. From the first time my eyes caught these beautiful blooms swaying in the breeze, I was hooked!

Graceful blooms that sway in the gentle breeze.

 Grayhead Coneflower Facts

  • Hardy in US Zones 3-8, check your USDA zone here
  • Scientifically named Ratibida pinnata –  common names include Prairie Coneflower, Pinnate Prairie Coneflower, Grayhead Mexican Hat, Gray-headed Mexican Hat, Yellow Coneflower, Grayhead Coneflower, Gray-headed Coneflower
  • The Native Range of covers most of the United States East of the Rocky Mountains.  Exceptions being North Dakota, Texas, North Carolina, New Jersey/Maryland, and parts of New England
  • Flowers of Grayhead Coneflower attract a variety of bees and butterflies, making it valuable to pollinators.
  • Ratibida pinnata has long stems that make it an excellent cut flower
  • Different levels of rainfall appear to effect what kinds of bees pollinate Ratibida pinnata
  • Grayhead Coneflower is a species that is commonly used in prairie and roadside restoration

Gray-headed Coneflower Reference Table

Scientific NameRatibida pinnata
Common NamesGrayhead Coneflower, Gray-headed Coneflower, Yellow Coneflower, Greyhead Coneflower, Grey-headed Coneflower, Grey-head coneflower
Height3′-5′ (90 cm-150 cm)
Spacing18″-24″ (45 cm – 60 cm)
SunlightFull Sun, Partial Sun
Soil TypeClay, Loam
Soil MoistureMedium to Dry moisture
Bloom Time & DurationBloom time is summer, lasting 4-8 weeks
Bloom ColorYellow
Larval HostSilvery Checkerspot, Common Eupithecia, Wavy-Lined Emerald
Native RangeRocky Mountains to East Coast
USDA Zone3-9

Growing Conditions for Ratibida Pinnata

Full sun and medium-dry soil is the preference for Yellow Coneflower.  It will grow well in clay or loam soil.  So, it is versatile in that it can handle some moist conditions too, as long as the soil drains well.  Overall Grayheaded Coneflower is quite tough, and can be planted in most locations.

Early stage blooming for Ratibida Pinnata

How to care for Gray-Head Coneflower

No care is required if planted in it’s optimum conditions. The secret to growing Grayheaded Coneflower successfully is to just give it full sun, and medium to dry soil. If you do this, and keep competition off of it for it’s first year, it will do great!

Maintenance

A nice feature of this flower is that no maintenance is required for Gray Head Coneflower, as it is quite robust and drought tolerant.  Although, if in a formal garden bed, you may have to pull unwanted seedlings or volunteers from rhizome roots.

How to grow Ratibida pinnata from Seed

A two-month old seedling of Ratibida pinnata

Grayhead Coneflower is easy to grow from seed. Seeds can be direct sown in the Fall. Otherwise seed of Ratibida Pinnata requires approximately 30 days cold-moist stratification or winter-sowing. Planting depth for Ratibida pinnata seed is on the surface to a light dusting.

Stratifying, or wintersowing seeds of Greyhead Coneflower will increase germination rate, and lower the minimum germination temperature [1]. After the seeds have been stratified, plant them into the soil by gently sprinkling them on the surface of soil and pressing them in firmly.  Then, lightly sprinkle soil on top of them so they are partially covered

These are tiny seeds, so they do not need to be planted at a certain depth.  They will germinate right on top of, or just underneath a light soil covering.  Keep the seed moist until germination.

Ratibida pinnata seeds

Purchase Seed

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Garden Uses

In a formal or manicured flower bed Ratibida pinnata will look best if grown in a cluster of flowers.  Think of it this way, what is more powerful visually – a single tree or a forest?

But Grayhead Coneflower is at home in prairies, wildflower gardens, and meadows. It has been shown to coexist with all sorts of prairie grasses, where other species have been shown to get choked out due to competition. [3]

Companion Plants for Gray-headed Coneflower

Gray Head Coneflower has a long bloom duration that overlaps nicely with other drought tolerant perennials Wild Bergamot, Echincaea Purpurea, and Anise Hyssop.  Combining these species will give you a stunning yellow/purple display, as their bloom periods all overlap.

It can also look great with the closely related Mexican Hat Flower.

Fauna

Gray Headed Coneflower has long lasting blooms that will attract numerous bees, butterflys, and other pollinating insects to your garden [2].  After blooming, the seed heads of Ratibida pinnata will attract birds who will eat the seeds.

Happy Bumblebees on Gray-Head Coneflower!

Identification of Ratibida Pinnata

Ratibida pinnata yellow coneflower

Grey-headed Coneflower will grow up to 5′ tall by 2′ wide in optimum conditions.  Most often though the plant is quite narrow.  You can find it growing in dry areas with full sun, such as steep roadside ditches in the Midwest.  Or on sloping fields that face South, as it is drought tolerant.

Stalk / Stem

Stalks of Ratibida pinnata are quite slender with veins/ridges running along them vertically.  They are light green in color.

Leaves

The base of the plant will have some basal leaves that are around 6″ long by 4″ wide.   They will be lobed, sometimes having secondary lobes on the lobes (did I say that right?).  Along the stems there will be lance-shaped leaves that are much smaller, 1-2″.  The surface of the leaves will be somewhat rough to the touch.

Flower

Large daisy like flowers will occur at the top of the stems, with some branching from the stalk.  So, you will get several blooms per stalk (usually).

The bloom will have around 10-15 long (3″) petals that droop down from the head/disc.  The head will be 1/2″-1″ tall.  This is a very showy flower when planted in mass, similar to Black-Eyed Susan, except for the drooping petals.

Image Credit: Frank Mayfield

Blooms will last for 4-8 weeks.

Root

Ratibida pinnata has rhizome roots that will help spread the plant.

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References:

[1] – BASKIN, C.C., BASKIN, J.M. and LECK, M.A. (1993), Afterripening Pattern during Cold Stratification of Achenes of Ten Perennial Asteraceae from Eastern North America, and Evolutionary Implication. Plant Species Biology, 8: 61-65. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-1984.1993.tb00235

[2] – Dickinson & McKone, 1992, Insect Floral Vistors to Four Species of Tall-Grass Prairie Composite. Prairie Naturalist 24 (3), p159-168. September 1992. Retrieved November 2020. https://apps.carleton.edu/campus/arb/assets/Dickinson___McKone__92__Insect_Floral_Visitors_Prairie_Naturalist.pdf

[3] – Lindgren, D. T., & Schaaf, D. (2005). Survival and Growth of Wildflowers with Buffalo Grass or Blue Grama Grass, HortScience HortSci, 40(6), 1787-1789. Retrieved Jan 15, 2021, from https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/view/journals/hortsci/40/6/article-p1787.xml

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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