Ratibida pinnata, a.k.a. Mexican hat plant or prairie coneflower, is a perennial wildflower native to Ontario, Canada and the eastern half of the United States. It grows best in rich, well drained soil in full sun.
The petals of the yellow or orange flowers droop toward the stems and attract several kinds of butterflies. They look a lot like a Black Eyed Susan only the flowers are smaller.
Each bloom sits atop a long stalk which may or may not branch. The flower stalks arise, surprisingly, from a caudex! This is the same water storage organ that forms the “foot” of the Elephant’s Foot palm . The flowers appear in May and disappear in September.
The long-lasting blooms make excellent cut flowers. They can last more than a week in water.
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The seed heads are eaten by birds in the fall and give off an anise aroma when crushed. Seeds can be harvested in October and November for propagation. Clip the cones from the stems and rub the seeds off into a bowl to collect them.
You can sow the freshly collected seed immediately or stratify it for spring sowing. The seedlings will bloom in their second season. Plant them close together (about a foot apart) as the bottom half of the plants are somewhat bare.
Mexican hat plants can also be propagated by dividing the clumps. Plants grow to a height of 3-5 feet and are hardy in zones 3-9.
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Ratibida columnifera is a related species. You can tell them apart by the height of the cones. The central cone of R. pinnata is shorter than the length of its petals, while that of R. columnifera is longer.