Sun/shade: Full sun
Soil moisture: Medium
Flowering period: June to August
Host plant for 2 caterpillar species
Amid the bright riot of the midsummer meadow, a slender stem puts forth its graceful yellow flowers, their petal-like rays draping down, idly sifting the breeze. In keeping with its carefree air, grey headed coneflower is content with a variety of growing conditions, but will do best under full sunlight and in soils of moderate to dry moisture. Within its native NE Ohio range, it inhabits meadows, fields, and woodland edges, and tends to be most competitive in the portions of these habitats that receive some occasional disturbance.
The plant is recognized by the Xerces society for possessing special value to native bees, and during its long, 1-2 month summer blooming period, it is both a pollen and nectar source to floral visitors including moths, small butterflies, flies, and bees. Syrphid flies are a group of pollinators who consume the plant’s floral rewards and whose larvae are especially useful as predators of aphids, a garden pest. Another of grey-headed coneflower’s visitors is interested in neither pollen nor nectar, but rather the tissue of the plant’s flowerheads. The caterpillar of the wavy-lined emerald moth utilizes grey-headed coneflower as a host plant, feeding on its flowers until it is ready to pupate and become a moth. While foraging, the caterpillar has the fascinating and ingenious habit of covering itself in flower and leaf fragments in order to camouflage against predatory detection.
Within the garden, grey-headed coneflower supports its diverse community of floral visitors while growing in a robust manner and attaining a mature height of 3-6’. In spite of its delicate appearance, the plant is a good competitor, spreading via short rhizomes to form a characteristically tight cluster.Photo by Ashley Keesling.