FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Ratibida pinnata is a resilient wildflower with pinnately divided basal leaves. In summer, strong slender stems are topped by showy daisy-like flowers. The blooms are 2-3” across with drooping yellow rays surrounding a dense chocolate brown cone. This trooper is content in prairie-like settings, disturbed fields and sunny gardens with average soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Ratibida pinnata occurs in central and eastern North America. The species ranges from Ontario to Vermont and northern Florida and west to Minnesota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Indigenous plants are found in moist, mesic or slightly dry Blackland prairies, limestone glades, clay prairies, thickets, dry woodland borders and in prairie remnants along disturbed railroad or roadside right of ways.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 3-10.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Ratibida pinnata is a perennial wildflower with ridged hairy stems and vigorous fibrous roots. Plants arise from stout rhizomes to form clumps with numerous branched flowering stems.
Basal leaves are 5-8” long and are pinnately divided with 3-9 narrow irregular lobes. A few small lance shaped leaves occur higher on the stems. Foliage is covered with short bristly hairs and dotted with glands.
From early to late summer, stems are topped by multitudes of lovely flower heads. Each head has 6-15 drooping yellow ray florets and is held on an 8” leafless stalk.
The rays surround an oblong cone that is greenish turning ashy gray and brown. The cone contains hundreds of tiny disc florets.
Cones matures into dense gray egg shaped heads full of small brown hair-less achenes.
Plants grow 2-5’ tall with 2’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Ratibida pinnata is easily cultivated in sunny sites with moist, average or somewhat dry soils. Plants tolerate part sun, heat, drought, seasonal flooding, controlled burns, disturbance and sandy, clay or calcareous soils.
Plants are fairly pest resistant. They are frequently consumed by livestock, however, and tend to decline in areas where grazing is heavy.
This is a fast growing reliable wildflower that usually blooms the second year from seed. Established plants will reseed and should be deadheaded if this is an issue.
LANDSCAPE USES: Ratibida pinnata is a great choice for a Prairie or Meadow Garden where it can be used as an Accent, Cut Flower, Butterfly Nectar Plant or as part of a Grouping or Mass. This coneflower offers Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders, Roadsides, Restoration Projects and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Ratibida pinnata mingles well with Agastache foeniculum, Asclepias tuberosa, Echinacea purpurea, Liatris pycnostachya, Monarda fistulosa, Sorghastrum nutans or Zizia aptera.
Rudbeckia hirta has similar appearance and provides the same quick effect.
TRIVIA: Ratibida pinnata is a valuable food source for native bees. Wasps, beetles, flies and butterflies also visit the flowers. Plants host caterpillars of Silvery Checkerspot butterflies and of several moths. Goldfinches eat the seed. Groundhogs, livestock and other herbivores browse the foliage.
Ratibida pinnata has drooping rays, cones that emit an anise scent when crushed and deeply divided basal leaves. The similar species Rudbeckia hirta has stiff horizontal rays, unscented cones and un-lobed lance shaped basal leaves.
Ratibida pinnata is also called Gray-headed Mexican hat, Pinnate prairie coneflower and Yellow coneflower. The species was formerly known as Rudbeckia pinnata.