Common Name: Prairie Coneflower, Yellow Coneflower, Gray-headed Coneflower
Latin Name: Ratibida pinnata
[Pronounced: "ruh-TIB-i-duh pin-ATE-ah"]
Type of Plant: Prairie forb ("wildflower")
Identification Helps:Prairie coneflower is a frequent forb on most Ohio prairies. It commonly blooms in July and August, displaying the identifying drooping yellow ray-flowers (which are not actual petals). A number of other Ohio forbs have similar yellow ray-flowers, but none droop in the characteristic manner of this species, as shown in the photo.
Preferred Growing Conditions in the Wild:Yellow Coneflower grows naturally in prairies and soils of average (mesic, pronounced "MEES-ik " or "MEZ-ik") moisture availability. Extremely dry or wet sites are not favorable.
The species is often found growing in ditches and other non-brushy sites in areas of Ohio that were once prairie. For reasons that are unclear, Ratibida pinnata can be grown rather easily where ever it is planted, so long as the site is unshaded. But the species never seems to naturally colonize new areas of the state that were not originally prairie. Again, if seeded, the species grows well nearly everywhere. But when left to natural processes, the species tends to remain confined to original prairie locations.
Therefore, the natural modern occurrence of the species almost always indicates that an ancestral prairie was on the site or immediately nearby. Why the plant doesn't naturally expand its range to all areas of the state is unknown.
Preferred Soils: The species grows in almost all soil types, but does not do well in continually wet soils.
Seasons of Growth and Bloom: New seasonal growth begins in mid- to late April. Vegetative growth continues into July, with flowerheads forming in late July and continuing into August or later.
Natural Distribution in Ohio: Yellow coneflower is found naturally throughout the state in all prairie regions on former prairie sites.
Description and General Information: Yellow coneflower is the forb depicted on the Ohio Prairie Association logo, as it is among the most common and ubiquitous of Ohio prairie plants. The plant seldom, if ever, grows naturally outside a prairie or former prairie area. It can be easily grown in gardens and prairie restorations and creations. In autumn, its seedhead can be crushed in hand to reveal a wonderful aromatic fragrance. A number of seed-eating birds consume the seeds when they mature in late September and October. The plant is a long-lived perennial with deep roots that allow the plant to thrive even in severe drought. Mass plantings in prairie and native plants landscapes are beautiful.