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2011 Kansas Wildflower of the Year

Yellow Prairie Coneflower



yellow prairie coneflower

"Coneflower" - refers to a flower with a conical raised disc in the center of the flower head (in this case the disc is tall and cylindrical); "Ratibida" - meaning is uncertain; "columnifera" (from Latin) bearing a column, referring to the columnar disc of the flower head.


Columnar prairie coneflower, upright prairie coneflower, prairie coneflower, long-headed coneflower, pyramid flower, Mexican hat, red Mexican hat.


Ratibida columnaris, Lepachys columnifera.


Sunflower or composite family (Asteraceae). This species can be recognized as a composite by the typical inflorescence, a flower head. It is one of the coneflowers of the sunflower tribe.


flowerThe interesting "long-nosed" flower head, the long flowering season including most of the summer and the ease of propagation and growth make the yellow prairie coneflower an excellent plant for the garden. This plant grows 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall. The green stems are lined with low light-colored longitudinal ridges and both leaves and stems are covered with white hairs lying along the surface (appressed hairs). This makes the foliage appear grayish or dusty green. The leaves are pinnately divided into many narrow segments. Yellow prairie coneflower blooms from early June to late August or September if there is sufficient moisture. The flower heads are borne singly on long stalks (peduncles) at the end of each stem or branch. The central disc of the flower is columnar or cylindrical and 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches tall. It is surrounded by four to eleven drooping yellow ray flowers (one color variety has partly or entirely reddish brown ray flowers). The columnar disc is covered with grayish green scales . which open into tiny brown disc flowers. Each flower head remains in bloom for many days as new groups of disc flowers continue to open from the bottom to the top of the column. Yellow prairie coneflower heads make long lasting cut flowers. Both the foliage and flowers are fragrant.


The yellow prairie coneflower is a hearty long-lived perennial. It has one or several upright stems arising from a crown, each stem usually branching many times. Leaves are borne on the stems in alternate fashion and are most densely arranged toward the ends of stems at the base of flowering stalks. The taproot grows 2 to 6 feet deep depending on the nature of the soil but has many branches in the first few inches of soil. This is one of the most shallow-rooted perennial forbs of the plains (Weaver and Albertson 1956). Yellow prairie coneflower volunteers from seed but it does not spread aggressively. Young plants often bloom in the first season if started in early spring from seed.


American Indians made a tea from the leaves and flowers. A decoction of the stems and leaves was used to relieve pain, treat snakebite and relieve ivy poisoning.


Yellow prairie coneflower is palatable to both livestock and wildlife, especially in its early growing stages. It decreases with heavy grazing (Brooks 1983).


seedThe "seeds" (fruits) of the yellow prairie coneflower are black or dark gray flattened achenes with a line of hairs along one side and one or two spikelike bristles on the tip. These achenes, approximately 1/8 inch long, arebome on the elongated disc of the head. The seed heads should be collected as soon as they are dry, usually in late July or August. The achenes can easily be removed by rubbing the seed head. They can be separated from the chaff with the use of sieves or by blowing the chaff.


We have had good germination of seeds of this species without any pretreatment of the seeds. Hesse (1973) reported improvement in germination with 9 weeks of moist stratification. However stratification for different time periods produced erratic results. She found that 79°F (26°C) was the best soil temperature for germination of this species.


seedlingThe seed can be planted on the site or seedlings can be grown indoors in pots. The seedlings grow easily in the greenhouse although they may be subject to infestation from aphids, mites or whiteflies.

seedling with leaves

The pair of small cotyledons on the seedlings are each slightly elliptic, and 1/3 to 1/2 times longer than wide. Each is borne on a very short stalk. The tip of each cotyledon is cut off rather straight. The first true leaves are simple and arise one at a time basally on medium to long stalks (petioles). The surfaces and edges of the true leaves are covered with hairs that lie pressed against the surface (appressed hairs). A number of SI ple leaves develop before the leaves start to show the typical division.


Salac, et aI. (1978) stated that this species can be propagated by softwood stem cuttings.


The yellow prairie coneflower is found throughout Kansas, more comonly in the west. It is found throughout much of the plains region from Minnesota and Missouri west to British Columbia and south to Texas and Arizona.


The yellow prairie coneflower is found on sunny sites, on many types of soil and in all types of prairie. It is also found in disturbed areas such as roadsides and in open woods. The optimum soil pH is 6 - 8 (Art 1991).


Art, Henry W. 1991. The Wildflower Gardener's Guide - Midwest, Great Plains and Canadian Prairies Edition. Pownal, VT: Storey Communications, Inc, viii + 192 pp.

Brooks, Ralph E. 1983. Wildflower in the Spotlight: columnar prairie coneflower. Kansas Wildflower Society Newsletter 5(2):4-6.

Hesse, Margaret C. 1973. Germination of seven species of wild flowers as affected by different pregermination conditions. Nebraska Dept. of Roads Interim Report HPR-l(10).

Saiac, S.S., P.N. Jensen, JA. Dickerson and R W. Gray, Jr. 1978. Wildflowers for Nebraska Landscapes. Lincoln, NE: The Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, 28 pp.


Growing Native Wildflowers by Harder and Platt. page 91.11

Further Reading

See also an article in the Fall 2010 newsletter.