The Other Coneflower

When people talk about coneflowers, most often they mean Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). But there is another coneflower that is underutilized in home gardens. I speak of Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata).

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This is a plant with lots of virtues. At times the golden rays seem to glow in the late afternoon light. The large central cone reminds me of a clown’s nose, but I find that endearing.

The slender, almost leafless stems of Yellow Coneflower have a see-through effect, distinct from the solid mass created by drifts of most other summer perennials.

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Yellow Coneflower is pretty adaptable, as long as it has sun and well-drained soil. Its native range runs throughout the Midwest and parts of the South as well, and it attracts North American bees and other pollinators.

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In rich garden soil, Yellow Coneflower can grow to 5+ feet, and has a tendency to flop. This is my only criticism. I cope with this shortcoming with tall, narrow tomato cages and the judicious use of a bit of green twine. The cages are a little unsightly, but are mostly hidden by mid-summer. In my experience this plant does not respond well to cutting back.

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In our garden, Purple Coneflower was particularly susceptible to aster yellows, which is why I stopped growing it. Fortunately, the disease hasn’t touched Yellow Coneflowers, nor our Rudbeckias or Asters.

It would make me happy to see this plant growing in more sunny gardens in our neighborhood.

23 Comments on “The Other Coneflower

  1. I have this on my list to plant in the garden. I hope it will do ok in my afternoon sun space. I have plenty of tomato cages to prop them up. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to become attracted to this plant. I saw some in a meadow setting the other day and fell in love.

  2. It’s not native here in Texas, but Ratibida columnifera, the so-called Mexican hat, is everywhere: especially in central Texas and the hill country. Sometimes, they go on for miles. They’re a bit shorter than these, but very colorful — a beloved wildflower. I suppose our closest analog to these yellow coneflowers would be the Texas coneflower. Native to Texas and Louisiana, it has the same yellow rays, a large central column, and a lot of height — often six feet tall or even more.

  3. That is a special one, for sure! I love seeing it in the prairies around here. It looks beautiful in your garden, especially when framed by the Wild Bergamot and the other blooms in your garden.

  4. Thanks for the introduction to a beautiful plant.

  5. I love yellow coneflowers, which we inherited when we moved here. Ours don’t need staking but I’m thinking of transplanting some to the west border & hopefully they behave the same way (although that’s a windier spot, so stakes and twine may need to get involved).

  6. Laurie’s word “jaunty” is right on. I am wondering if the rabbits would devour this as voraciously as they’ve gone after my other coneflowers. This is a great suggestion, though — thanks!

  7. I agree it’s stunning but a lof of gardeners hate yellow that may be why we don’t see it more often. I wonder how it copes with severe heat and drought – any idea?

    • It’s pretty well adapted to heat and drought, at least it is once established. It’s native range includes some pretty warm places, like Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi …

  8. It seems to me that there was another species of Ratibida that was rare, but ‘somewhat’ available back in the 1980s. I haven’t noticed it since then, but had not been looking for it either. For us, coneflower did not become commonly available until it became a fad as an herbal dietary supplement.

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