July and August are good months for the natives in my garden.
There are black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta.
And Brown-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia triloba, which are quickly spreading in various parts of my garden.
There is a young 'Little Joe' Joe-Pye Weed, a few Phlox pilosa still blooming, and, of course, there are coneflowers--lots of coneflowers. But there should be a lot more natives than this. Last year I planted quite a few seedlings of prairie plants, expecting to see Royal Catchfly and Phlox pallida, among others, either last year or this, but so far they have been no-shows. I don't know if they died from lack of water last year or were crowded out by the many thugs in my butterfly garden, but I've really been disappointed.
So imagine how happy I was a few weeks ago to notice a few small yellow flowers rising above the sea of goldenrod and aster foliage. I scrounged around the plant and found a marker nearby--"Tall Coreopsis," it read, and checking my garden journal last year, yes, indeed I did plant a Tall Coreopsis, a native found throughout Illinois. When friend Beckie visited my garden last week, I pointed it out, and she said, "Oh, you have some gray-headed coneflowers!" "No, " I replied, " this is a Coreopsis tripteris." I'm not sure she was convinced, but she was too polite to pursue the subject. The more I thought about it, the flowers certainly did look more like gray-headed coneflowers, and I thought I'd better do a little research.
Ratibida pinnata has composite flowers with 13 drooping yellow florets and an oblong head of disk florets that grows to be 1/2 to 3/4 inches tall. That should have been enough to identify this plant, but just to make sure, I checked the leaves. The leaves near the top of each stem of Ratibida are smaller and alternate, while the leaves of the Tall Coreopsis are opposite. That clinched it--my initial i.d. was wrong, and these were indeed gray-headed coneflowers. I think one of the things that confused me was the height, but my sources say that these coneflowers can grow up to 4 feet tall, which mine have definitely achieved.
The head of the flower is brown when mature, but starts out as a greenish-gray, which is how it gets its name as "gray-headed." The flowers appear in early to late summer and will bloom for one-two months. It likes full sun but will grow in part shade, too, and isn't fussy about soil. In fact, it can flop over if "spoiled by too much water or fertile soil."(Illinois Wildflowers.info) All of this makes it a perfect addition to almost any wildflower/native garden.
Each flower head has its own stalk. The stems are slender and delicate, causing them to sway in the breeze. Indeed, I had trouble photographing these flowers for several days because of the breeze.
Many kinds of insects visit this flower, especially several varieties of bees, who enjoy both the nectar and the pollen. Wasps, flies, some butterflies, and beetles also visit the plant as well as caterpillars of some butterflies and moths. Goldfinches occasionally eat the seeds.
Native Americans used to make a tea from the flower cones and leaves; one tribe used the root to cure toothaches.
Gray-headed Coneflowers are fairly common in Illinois and, according to Illinois Wildflowers.info, are "fairly easy to grow." I'm glad to hear that because I've always admired these lovely flowers and hope they continue to grow and colonize in my small butterfly garden.
For more interesting natives and wildflowers, visit Gail at Clay and Limestone, where every day is Wildflower Day!