The grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) is a perennial wildflower native to most of the eastern U.S. It grows naturally in dry prairies and barrens. Grey-headed coneflowers have also become a favorite addition to prairie restoration areas, pollinator plantings, and wildflower gardens. Another common name for the grey-headed coneflower is the yellow coneflower.
Grey-headed coneflowers can grow up to 5 feet tall and bloom from June through August. Like other members of the aster family, what we think of as a flower is really a flowerhead made up of multiple flowers. The bright yellow “petals” are actually infertile ray flowers that serve to attract pollinators in much the same way that true petals would do. The cone in the middle of the flowerhead starts out a greyish-green color and gives the plant its common name. This is where the fertile disk flowers are located. The disk flowers bloom from the bottom of the cone up, turning the cone a rich brown color as they bloom.
Native bees and butterflies are highly attracted to grey-headed coneflowers. Some of the native bees that commonly use grey-headed coneflowers are sweat bees, bumble bees, long-horned bees, and leafcutter bees. Butterflies such as viceroys, monarchs, azures, sulphurs, crescents, and hairstreaks will commonly visit grey-headed coneflowers. Grey-headed coneflowers are also host plants for the caterpillar of the wavy-lined moth. After the flowers go to seed, goldfinches and other songbirds will eat the seeds.
In a garden or landscaped setting, plant grey-headed coneflowers in a sunny to partly sunny area where they have a little room to spread. They may have a tendency to lean as they get taller, especially in a windy area. Planting grey-headed coneflowers near patches of purple coneflowers can create a stunning display. Grey-headed coneflowers are one of the many native plants that I grow in my nursery if you are looking for some to add to your garden.
This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.
Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.