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Although it resembles its cousins black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower, the gray-headed coneflower has a style all its own.  Growing up to five feet tall with a slender form, it has yellow petals that droop downward from a tall, bullet-shaped gray cone of disk flowers.  As the cone blooms from the bottom up, its distinctive color gradually changes to brown.  The seeds of the cone have a spicy or anise-like aroma when crushed.  This perennial grows in full sun and a variety of well-drained soils, and it tolerates heat, drought, seasonal flooding, part shade, and poor soils.  Also known as pinnate prairie coneflower, yellow coneflower, and gray head Mexican hat, gray-headed coneflower is a valuable source of food for native bees.  

 

Native habitats include fields, moist or slightly dry prairies, roadsides, and woodland borders.  Ideal for roadside plantings, wildlife cover, and prairie restorations.  In the home landscape, it’s suitable for cottage and pollinator gardens, water-wise landscapes, rain gardens, and perennial borders.   

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows 3-5’ tall.

 

Prefers full sun and tolerates part shade.

 

Tolerates wide range of moist-to-dry, well-drained soils, including sandy, loamy, and clay.

 

Flowers are 3” across and have about 15 drooping yellow ray flowers surrounding a domed, oval cone ¾-1” tall.  One or several flowers, each on its own long stalk, may top a single stem.  The cone is gray-brown and covered in hundreds of tiny brown disk flowers.  Flowers bloom June-August, and then the cone becomes a head of small, brown seeds.

 

Basal leaves are on long stalks and up to 8” long, deeply divided into 3-7 lance-like lobes.  Upper leaves are smaller and often unlobed.  Leaves are covered in short hairs.  Rough and slightly ridged stem is unbranched except at the top.

 

Wildlife Value:

A host plant for larvae of silvery checkerspot butterfly and specialists sunflower and Epiblema iowana moths. Wasps, bees, beetles, flies, and butterflies also visit the flowers.  Goldfinches eat the seeds.  

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The cone and leaves have been used to make tea, and the roots to cure toothaches.

 

Coneflower, Gray-headed, Ratibida pinnata

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