Thursday, September 17, 2009

Yellow Coneflower - Ratibida pinnata

Yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) is a rare Florida native wildflower, found naturally only in open calcareous woodlands in Gadsden and Jackson counties in the panhandle, but it is an exceedingly common component of the Midwest and Western prairie communities as well as open glades and woodlands throughout much of the eastern half of the country.

Although far out of its natural range in our Pinellas County landscape, we have grown this species quite successfully now for several years and it has been both tough and adaptable.

Yellow coneflower is a deciduous perennial. In the early spring, it sends up its wonderful large toothed basal leaves. By themselves, the foliage is an attractive component of any garden setting. In the early summer, however, it begins the process of flowering. In the tallgrass prairie, yellow coneflower's flowering stalks may reach 6 feet or taller. In Florida, these rarely stand higher than 3 feet. Nevertheless, the flowers are identical and often stand taller than the other species surrounding them.

On the surface, yellow coneflower looks a lot like a black-eyed susan. The centers are dark and the petals are the same rich yellow. Yellow coneflower, however, has a decidely larger center of disc flowers that is knob-like in appearance. These eventually produce copious numbers of medium-sized seed that is a favorite food source for prairie birds. While in bloom, the flowers are favored nectar sources for butterflies and other pollinators. All of this makes yellow coneflower an ideal wildflower for a wildlife garden.

We have planted yellow coneflower throughout our gardens at Hawthorn Hill, but are not currently propagating it for sale. That may change someday in the future, but at present this wonderful wildflower is frequently available from other sources.

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