General: Composite Family (Asteraceae). Prairie coneflower is a native perennial about a foot and a half tall. The rays are generally three to five centimeters long, much longer than the disk (solid part between the rays). The floral disk is somewhat globe-shaped, ovoid, or shortly ellipsoid, twelve to twenty millimeters high (Steyermark 1963). Prairie coneflower has well-developed leaves up to fifteen centimeters long and six centimeters wide, pinnatifid to partly bipinnatifid, with ultimate segments linear to oblong, often very unequal (Great Plains Flora Association 1986). This species has one to several stems twelve to forty-seven inches tall. The fruit is a small ashen.
Distribution: Prairie coneflower ranges from Alberta to Mexico, east to Manitoba, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas; and New England (Steyermark 1963). For current distribution, please consult the Plant profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Mexican hat, yellow Mexican hat, upright prairie coneflower, long-head coneflower, columnar prairie coneflower
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
extends from southeastern British Columbia  to Manitoba  and
Michigan , south through Illinois  to Louisiana, and west
through Texas and northern Mexico  to Arizona . Naturalized
populations occur east of the Cascades  and in New England .
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
Occurrence in North America
MT NE NM ND OK SD TN TX UT WI
WY AB BC MB SK MEXICO
Ratibida columnifera grows well on loam, sandy loam, and clayey loam soils. It prefers a sunny position and well-drained rich soil types. This species is tolerant of weakly acidic to moderately alkaline soils and weak saline soils. It has low to moderate water requirements. Prairie coneflower is found on dry plains, prairies, waste ground, and along roadsides and railroads.
Upright prairie coneflower is a native  warm-season  perennial
forb [1,27,30,51]. It has one to several stems 12 to 47 inches (0.3-1.2
m) tall , often branched in the upper part [24,55]. Leaves are up
to 6 inches (15 cm) long  and pinnately divided . Flowerheads
are borne singly  at the ends of naked peduncles [1,26]. The floral
disk is columnar, 0.6 to 1.6 inches (1.5-4 cm) long , and about 0.4
inches (1 cm) across. The fruit is a small achene ; the pappus is
reduced to one or two prominent awn-teeth [1,30]. Upright prairie
coneflower has a caudex and a stout taproot [26,55] with branch roots
. It is an obligate mycotroph .
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Upright prairie coneflower grows well on sandy loam, loam, and clayey
loam soils . It can also be found growing on thin, rocky, gravelly
and sandy soils. It is tolerant of weakly acidic to moderately alkaline
soils and weakly saline soils . Optimum soil depth for upright
prairie coneflower growth is 20 or more inches (51 cm) . It has low
to moderate water requirements  and grows in full sun . It is
found on dry plains, prairies , hillsides , and also roadsides,
railway grades and other "waste places" .
A field survey of minimally disturbed native grassland of the Coastal
Sand Plain of south Texas was conducted in May, 1987. Upright prairie
coneflower occurred in five of ten sites on dune ridges and well-drained
flats, with mean absolute frequency of 14 percent and relative cover of
3 percent. In swales and on moderately drained flats it occurred on
only one of five sites, with absolute frequency of 5 percent and trace
relative cover .
Upright prairie coneflower occurs at the following elevations:
Elevation (feet) Elevation (meters)
CO 3,500-7,000 1,067-2,134 
MT 3,200-5,200 975-1,585 
SD 3,600-5,000 1,097-1,524 
UT 4,500-8,416 1,372-2,565 [14,55]
WY 3,700-8,000 1,128-2,434 
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
More info for the term: shrub
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine - Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce - fir forest
K023 Juniper - pinyon woodland
K037 Mountain-mahogany - oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K040 Saltbush - greasewood
K045 Ceniza shrub
K056 Wheatgrass - needlegrass shrubsteppe
K060 Mesquite savanna
K062 Mesquite - live oak savanna
K063 Foothills prairie
K064 Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass
K065 Grama - buffalograss
K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass
K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass
K070 Sandsage - bluestem prairie
K074 Bluestem prairie
K077 Bluestem - sacahuista prairie
K081 Oak savanna
K084 Cross Timbers
K086 Juniper - oak savanna
K098 Northern floodplain forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
More info for the term: shrub
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES23 Fir - spruce
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon - juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
14 Northern pin oak
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
62 Silver maple - American elm
66 Ashe juniper - redberry (Pinchot) juniper
67 Mohrs (shin) oak
206 Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine
239 Pinyon - juniper
241 Western live oak
Key Plant Community Associations
It is not listed as an indicator species in available publications. It
occurs with a variety of associated species, depending on geographic
location and site conditions.
Lists of associated species are available for the following areas
outside the main range of upright prairie coneflower: the "hard lands"
of northeastern and east-central Colorado , the Edwards Plateau of
west-central Texas , the lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas
, and the Coastal Sand Plain of south Texas .
Propagation by Seed: Ratibida columnifera seeds are best sown in early spring in a cold frame. Cover the seeds and place the pot in a sunny location. Optimum germination temperatures are between 68 to 86ºF, or 20 to 30ºC. Germination should be achieved in two days.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Long-Headed Coneflower in Illinois
(this plant is adventive from the Great Plains; insect activity is unspecified; information is limited; observations are from Mawdsley and Williams; another common of this plant is 'Mexican Hat')
Cantharidae: Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus (Wms); Cleridae: Trichodes bibalteatus (Mwd)
(Mwd) = Jonathan R. Mawdsley
Flower-Visiting Insects of Long-Headed Coneflower in Illinois
(this plant is adventive from the Great Plains; insect activity is unspecified; information is limited; this observation is from Mawdsley; another common of this plant is 'Mexican Hat')
Cleridae: Trichodes bibalteatus (Mwd)
Based on studies in:
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- L. D. Harris and L. Paur, A quantitative food web analysis of a shortgrass community, Technical Report No. 154, Grassland Biome. U.S. International Biological Program (1972), from p. 17.
Plant Response to Fire
Upright prairie coneflower response to fire varies considerably,
depending to some extent on geographic area and season of burning.
Upright prairie coneflower was studied in tallgrass prairie of
northeastern Kansas, where it was abundant. Plants from sites not
burned for 9 years or more were 2.6 times larger, produced 50 percent
more stems, and had more flowerheads and seeds than did plants from
recently burned sites. Reproductive effort (the ratio of inflorescence
biomass to total vegetative biomass) was 33 percent lower in annually
burned prairie than in prairies with longer fire intervals. However,
percent cover and frequency were not significantly different between
burned and unburned sites. Variation in upright prairie coneflower
response to fire is probably due to changes in its competitive status
relative to the dominant perennial grasses and to changes in abiotic
conditions after fire . Another study in northeastern Kansas
reported that upright prairie coneflower cover was not significantly
correlated with years since burning at postfire years 1 to 4 .
Upright prairie coneflower was less prevalent on north-central Nebraska
sand hills 2 to 3 months after an early May wildfire than on similar
unburned sites .
Changes in upright prairie coneflower flowering were not significant
after May prescribed fires in northwestern Minnesota . A survey of
literature on plant response to fire indicates that upright prairie
coneflower decreased or showed no change in response to spring fires
Upright prairie coneflower in a south Texas chaparral-bristlegrass
(Setaria spp.) community had varying responses to fire. Plots burned in
September produced 3 pounds of upright prairie coneflower herbage per
acre; plots burned the December of the next year produced 8 pounds per
acre; plots burned at both times produced 3 pounds per acre. Unburned
plots produced 2 pounds per acre . Percent cover of upright prairie
coneflower was 3 percent or less on all burned and unburned plots, some
of which were also mechanically treated by shredding, chopping, or
Upright prairie coneflower in tallgrass prairie in northeastern Kansas
was burned on different schedules on matched plots. Cover was less than
1 percent on all treatments, burned and unburned. Frequency varied with
soil type, fire frequency, and season of burning .
Immediate Effect of Fire
Caudex, growing points in soil
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
Upright prairie coneflower is fire sensitive when actively growing, but
has good fire tolerance in the dormant state  since it sprouts from
the caudex [26,55]. In the central Great Plains tallgrass prairie,
upright prairie coneflower was reported to be harmed by fire .
Upright prairie coneflower produces numerous small seeds  and can
establish on burned sites, since it thrives in the open, sunny
conditions  created by fire. It may be an initial on-site
colonizer, but no information was available on presence in the seedbank.
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Facultative Seral Species
Upright prairie coneflower is listed as an early seral species in
southeastern Montana . It shows weak shade tolerance and is usually
found on open or exposed sites .
After the drought of the 1930's, upright prairie coneflower was
particularly common in mixed-grass prairie of the Great Plains as bare
areas were colonized. It was one of only five species that showed
marked recovery from the drought by 1943 .
Upright prairie coneflower was not present on a range site in
southwestern North Dakota that had been ungrazed for 39 years. A
similar grazed site had an average of 1.3 upright prairie coneflower
stems per square meter .
northeastern Kansas is an andrenid bee (Andrena rudbekii) .
Requirements for optimum germination of upright prairie coneflower seeds
According to research conducted in east-central South Dakota, upright
prairie coneflower seeds have an impermeable membrane which completely
inhibits germination. Moist-cold stratification produced 11 percent
germination. If the seed membrane was punctured with a probe,
germination increased to 95-100 percent without stratification. Filled
seed constituted 47.5 percent of the seed collected .
Upright prairie coneflower seeds from southeastern Montana outlier
stands of tallgrass prairie were tested for viability, germination, and
seedling vigor. Seeds had good germination over a broad range of
temperatures and pretreatments; optimum germination temperatures were 68
to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (20-30 deg C). At 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20
deg C), 50 percent germination was achieved in 2 days. Seedling
survival was excellent .
Germination rates of upright prairie coneflower seeds from western North
Dakota were tested. Maximum germination occurred with dry cold storage
(29%, occurring in January) .
Upright prairie coneflower can regrow until seasonal maturity if
partially defoliated by mowing or grazing .
Life History and Behavior
Upright prairie coneflower resumes growth in spring . In
north-central Texas, it broke dormancy in early March, bloomed in June,
and shed seed in July . In southwestern North Dakota, upright
prairie coneflower resumed growth in late April, bloomed during the
latter part of July, and obtained maximum height by the end of July.
Mature height, averaged over 8 years (1955-1962), was 11.3 inches (28.7
cm) . Upright prairie coneflower bloomed an average of 41 days a
year in central North Dakota .
Upright prairie coneflower flowering times are:
Begin Peak End
Flowering Flowering Flowering
CO June July September 
KS June July September 
ND June July August 
North TX June ---- ---- 
South TX April ---- ---- 
UT June ---- August 
WY July July September 
Great Plains June ---- September 
N. Great Plains July ---- September 
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ratibida columnifera
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the Plants Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.
Upright prairie coneflower responds variably to grazing. It often
increases in mixtures with more palatable species, but decreases in
mixed-grass prairies lacking more palatable forbs . On mixed-grass
prairie in east-central South Dakota, upright prairie coneflower
increases when cattle grazing reduces more palatable species .
In southwestern Texas, upright prairie coneflower occurred on severely
overgrazed shortgrass pasture . A 1-year study in southeastern
Texas showed no significant difference in upright prairie coneflower
cover between short-duration and continuous grazing pastures .
Upright prairie coneflower increased slightly following mechanical brush
removal in west-central Texas .
A northeastern Kansas tallgrass prairie containing upright prairie
coneflower was mowed with different schedules on matched plots. Upright
prairie coneflower canopy cover after mowing was less than 1 percent on
all plots. Frequency ranged from 0 to 45 percent, varying with soil and
mowing treatment .
Upright prairie coneflower seeds can be planted in the fall. If they
are placed in winter storage for spring planting, they should be
stratified with a cold dry treatment .
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
Available through native plant seed sources specializing in Great Plains species. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Prairie coneflower seeds can be planted in the fall. If they are placed in winter storage for spring planting, they should be stratified with a cold dry treatment.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
Upright prairie coneflower is suggested for use on roadsides, park and
recreation areas, and prairie restoration projects where annual
precipitation is from 10 to 30 inches (254-762 mm) . Plant vigor
and seed quality are rated excellent . Upright prairie coneflower
has been established successfully from seed [3,17,42], greenhouse stock
, and tissue culture . Research from southeastern Montana,
however, indicates that moisture stress can reduce growth of seedlings.
The potential for for vigorous establishment during extended drought was
rated as low to moderate .
Prairie hay harvested from natural grassland in 1978 was used
successfully as a source of upright prairie coneflower seeds in central
North Dakota. This method was used to establish vegetation in the
Central Great Plains after the drought of the 1930's. Both recently
harvested and stored hay produced seedlings in greeenhouse tests .
Upright prairie coneflower seeds were collected locally in southwestern
Ohio, and raked into the soil of a prairie reclamation site on a sand
and gravel borrow-pit. The seeds germinated and the plants flowered .
Upright prairie coneflower seeds collected in the Badlands of western
North Dakota were grown on raw coal spoil material. Upright prairie
coneflower had good emergence of seedlings. Seedlings and greenhouse
transplants showed vigorous growth for 2 years. Upright prairie
coneflower developed substantially more cover on the plots than did most
of the other species tested .
In southeastern Montana, upright prairie coneflower was recommended for
inclusion in seed mixtures for strip mine reclamation. Seeds germinated
well even under high water stress and with high sodium chloride
concentration in the soil. Seedling performance was favorable .
The cover value of upright prairie coneflower for wildlife in North
Dakota is fair for mule deer and pronghorn, and poor for white-tailed
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
In a 1-year study in the central Black Hills of South Dakota, upright
prairie coneflower made up 0.4 percent of cattle diets in June but was
not utilized from July through October .
Another 1-year study showed that upright prairie coneflower was an
important species in the diets of white-tailed deer in southeastern
Texas from early spring through summer . However, upright prairie
coneflower seedlings in restored native prairie in southeastern
Minnesota were not grazed by white-tailed deer, although seedlings of
other forbs were eaten .
Upright prairie coneflower seeds were eaten by wild turkeys in
south-central South Dakota. In September and October these seeds made
up 1.2 percent of the volume of crop contents and were used by 10
percent of wild turkeys studied .
Other uses and values
make a solution applied externally to draw poison from rattlesnake
bites. The solution was also applied for relief from poison-ivy
(Toxicodendron spp.) .
is poor .
The food value of upright prairie coneflower is listed as follows :
Elk poor ----
Mule deer poor poor
White-tailed deer fair poor
Pronghorn ---- poor
Upland game birds good ----
Small nongame birds fair ----
Small mammals fair ----
Upright prairie coneflower palatability is rated poor to fair for cattle
and horses, and fair for sheep .
Ethnobotanic: Tea was made from the leaves and flower heads. Cheyenne Indians boiled prairie coneflower leaves and stems to make a solution applied externally to draw the poison out of rattlesnake bites. An infusion was used to relieve the pain of headaches and to treat stomachaches and fevers (Moerman 1998). A decoction was used as a wash to relieve pain and to treat poison ivy rash (Ibid.).
Landscaping: Prairie coneflower is suggested for use in roadside plantings, parks, recreational areas and prairie restoration projects; where annual precipitation is from ten to thirty inches. This species is sometimes grown as an ornamental.
Ratibida columnifera, commonly known as Upright Prairie Coneflower or Mexican Hat, is a species of flowering plant in the daisy family, Asteraceae, that is native to much of North America. It inhabits prairies, plains, roadsides, and disturbed areas from southern Canada through most of the United States to northern Mexico.
- "Ratibida columnifera (Nutt.) Wooton & Standl.". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2005-01-05. Retrieved 2010-06-05.
- Stubbendieck, James L.; Stephan L. Hatch; L. M. Landholt (2003). North American Wildland Plants: A Field Guide (6 ed.). University of Nebraska Press. pp. 280–281. ISBN 978-0-8032-9306-9.
- Stevenson, Matilda Coxe 1915 Ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians. SI-BAE Annual Report #30 (p. 59)
Some variants of Ratibida columnifera have been treated as varieties or forms. The most prominent of these is forma pulcherrima (de Candolle) Fernald, which is characterized by its showy, purplish yellow to purple rays; it is more frequent in the southwestern part of the range of the species. In the typical form, rays are yellow (E. L. Richards 1968).
Some authors have argued that Ratibida columnaris (Sims) D. Don is the correct name for this species; J. L. Reveal (1968) and E. L. Richards (1968) provided synoptic discussions of the issue.
Names and Taxonomy
The currently accepted scientific name of upright prairie coneflower is
Ratibida columnifera (Nutt.) Woot. and Standl. (Asteraceae) [1,26,30,51].
There is one recognized form as follows:
R. c. forma pulcherrima (DC.) Fern. [1,26]
Upright prairie coneflower hybridizes with prairie coneflower (Ratibida
tagetes) in Colorado .
columnar prairie coneflower
long headed coneflower
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