Ratibida pinnata – Grayhead Coneflower


Gray Head Coneflower is a prairie wildflower with many common names that grows along railroad tracks, open.  Sometimes referred to Yellow Coneflower, this species (Ratibida pinnata) can often be confused with Echanacea Paradoxa as they share the same common name, Yellow Coneflower.  A wonderful addition to a garden, Ratibida pinnata is a herbaceous perennial that will bloom for a long time (6 weeks) in mid-late summer and is very showy.

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.

 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 Grayheaded Coneflower 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 makes 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

Physical Description of Yellow Coneflower

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.

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.

How to care  for Prairie Coneflower

No care is required if planted in it’s optimum conditions.

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

Yellow Coneflower / Grayhead Coneflower is quite easy to grow from seed.  Seed can be direct sowed in the Fall.  Otherwise seed of Ratibida Pinnata requires approximately 30 days cold-moist stratification.  Now, cold moist stratification can be achieved via winter sowing or utilizing the refrigerator.  (See our guide to cold/moist stratification here).

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.

Garden Uses of Grayhead Coneflower

In a formal or manicured flower bed Ratibida pinnata will look best if grown in a cluster of flowers.  Otherwise, it looks wonderful in a wildflower garden, meadow, or micro prairie.  You can click on the image below to see our guide on how to make your own Micro-Prairie!

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.

Fauna

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

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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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