Description & Overview
Native to dry prairies and savannas in Wisconsin, Yellow Coneflower is a striking plant, featuring vibrant yellow, slightly drooping florets that surround a skyward-pointing cone-like green center. Coarse, rough leaves on sturdy, long flower stalks contrast with its nodding and graceful heads that seem to dance with the wind. You may also know this plant as Gray-headed Coneflower, Drooping Coneflower, or Prairie Coneflower.
Yellow Coneflower grows easily in full sun in medium to dry-medium soil. It’s tolerant of many conditions including drought, seasonal flooding, disturbed and sandy or clay soils, making it a stalwart in the garden.
With showy and whimsical blooms, Yellow Coneflower makes a wonderful addition to prairie or meadow gardens, landscapes, restoration projects, wildlife gardens, rooftop gardens, and roadside plantings. This brilliant flower can be used as an accent plant, as part of a grouping or mass, or intermingled with other shorter perennials in a naturalistic setting. From mid-June through September, expect a profusion of radiant blooms followed by rich brown seed heads that provide winter interest.
Yellow coneflower attracts many beneficial insects such as the specialist Mining Bee (Andrena rudbeckiae) as well as Bumble Bees (Bombus spp.), Leafcutter Bees (Megachile spp.), Long-Horned Bees (Melissodes spp.), Sweat Bees (Halictus spp.), and Green Sweat Bees (Agapostemon spp.). A larval host plant, the Wavy-Lined Emerald Moth a.k.a Camouflaged Looper (Synchlora aerata) attaches small plant fragments from petals and leaves to their backs, camouflaging themselves to lower the risk of predation. Clever! Yellow Coneflower is a nectar plant for Mint Moths (Pyrausta spp.), Azure butterflies (Celastrina spp.), and Checkered White butterflies (Pontia protodice) often found in Wisconsin. After blooming, seed heads attract and feed hungry birds, particularly Goldfinches and Dark-Eyed Juncos.
A fast-growing perennial, Yellow Coneflower will reseed and should be deadheaded if spreading is of concern. Leaving the stems and flowers up all season-long will provide winter interest and sustenance for songbirds. In early to mid-spring, cut back 1-2 inches above the ground to promote new growth.
No serious insect or disease problems.
The Yellow Coneflower was once in the genus Lepachys and Rudbeckia (hence the association with coneflowers). It’s now part of the Ratibida genus which includes seven species: Ratibida coahuilensis, Ratibida columnifera, Ratibida latipalearis, Ratibida mexicana, Ratibida peduncularis, and Ratibida tagetes.
The genus Ratibida is the Dacian name of ‘some aster-like plant’, recorded by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician from the Roman Empire who traveled extensively seeking medicinal substances from all over the world. The species pinnata, means “feather-like” referring to the leaves which have fine segments arranged along the stem.
The cone, roots, and leaves of the Yellow Coneflower were once used to ease toothaches and reduce fevers. When crushed, its leaves emit an anise-like fragrance and were often used in teas as a flavor enhancer.
Yellow Coneflower is at home amongst other perennials such as Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Anise-Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), and Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata).
With its height and spectacular color, Yellow Coneflower contrasts beautifully against ornamental grasses such as Gracillimus Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’), Northwind Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’), Shenandoah Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenendoah’), or Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).