Ratibida pinnata (Gray-headed Coneflower)

Plant Info
Also known as: Pinnate Prairie Coneflower, Yellow Coneflower
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; fields, prairies, along roads
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:3 to 7 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flowers] 1 to 12 flower heads at the top of the plant, single at the tips of long stalks and the tips of branching stems. Flowers have up to 15 spreading to drooping yellow petals (ray flowers), each about 2 inches long, surrounding an erect, round to oval cone ½ to ¾ inches tall. The cone is gray-brown or greenish, covered in hundreds of tiny brown disk flowers that bloom from the bottom of the cone up. The bracts surrounding the base of the flower are narrowly triangular and rough from short, stiff hairs. The long, naked flower stalks are rough and slightly ridged or angled.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves near the base of the plant are up to 8 inches long and 5 inches wide, deeply divided into 3 to 7 narrow lobes that may be further divided, or are coarsely toothed. Lower leaves are long stalked, leaves becoming smaller with fewer lobes and shorter stalks as the ascend the stem, the uppermost leaves unlobed and stalkless. Leaves feel rough from short stiff hairs. Stems are unbranched except in the flowers, ridged, rough-hairy, and may create clumps or colonies from spreading rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit in late fall] The cone becomes a head of small, brown seeds that are slightly compressed with 1 or 2 tooth-like projections but lack a tuft of hairs.


I sometimes think that if you've seen one coneflower, you've seen them all, but each species is indeed unique. Gray-headed Coneflower is a much taller plant than the related Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida columnifera), blooms later, and has much larger leaves. Cut-leaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) is also a tall plant with lobed leaves, but it has a more bulbuous cone, the leaf lobes are broader, seeds are not compressed, and has smooth stems.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Landscape Alternatives
  • ReWild Native Gardens
  • Out Back Nursery
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County and in a private garden in Lino Lakes.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Mary - Stearns County
on: 2008-06-08 17:49:08

I took a picture of the gray-headed coneflower at Quarry Park in Stearns County late last fall. I knew it was a cone flower but now I know it is a gray-headed coneflower.

Posted by: Skip - Breezy Point, Pelican Lake
on: 2010-06-12 08:49:21

I have a large Wildflower garden on our septic drain field. The deer seem to love the gray headed coneflower. They are leaving everything else alone. Im wondering if others have had this problem......Skip

Posted by: Mark - Oakdale Nature Preserve, Oakdale MN
on: 2010-07-26 18:09:15

A single plant, on the slope between the trails near their intersection south of the Discovery Center, blooming the last week in July 2010.

Posted by: Barb - rural New York Mills
on: 2011-07-18 19:46:52

We have acres of prairie that my husband planted several years ago-have gray-headed coneflowers, purple prairie clover, purple coneflowers, Rudbeckia,big blue stem and other grasses-beautiful!

Posted by: IW - Stearns County
on: 2011-09-30 08:48:22

I took a picture of the gray-headed coneflower at Quarry Park in Stearns County late last fall. I knew it was a cone flower but now I know it is a gray-headed coneflower. then i burned it.

Posted by: Brenda - St. Michael
on: 2014-06-17 10:30:01

Does anyone else find these to be invasive? I have a large wildflower area, and I can't keep up with removing these. I'm afraid they will take over!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-06-17 11:51:48

Native plants can behave differently in a landscape than in the wild, due to competition (or lack thereof) from other plants. Gray-headed coneflower may not be suited to a small garden but is a great addition to a meadow or larger landscape project.

Posted by: Paula Milne - Reservoir Woods in Roseville, MN
on: 2020-07-17 22:59:24

I enjoyed seeing these and taking pictures at the Oak Savannah area of Reservoir Woods park. Just lovely! 7/17/2020

Posted by: tom koralesky - Litchfield
on: 2020-08-07 09:28:29

Which is the seed from a gray headed cone flower: Is it the brown that falls off 1st or the head that is left after the brown falls off? Thank you, Tom

Posted by: Carrie - Sioux City, Ia
on: 2020-09-02 10:42:42

Tom, based on the seed I was gifted a few years ago, it's not the brown, but the gray head that remains. I was told to harvest seed when the head can be crushed a bit, and if so, then mine still aren't ready. The seed is long and thin and makes up the entirety of the head.

Posted by: Bonnie Hiniker - Pine River
on: 2021-04-19 00:14:27

The rudebeckia laciniata Gray headed coneflower does well in central Cass county MN near Hand Lake. I am planting seeds I have cold moist stratified for 60 days out in 4.5" pots& 4-pacs. should be ready to plant outside in early June. April 19 & it is snowing outside!

Posted by: John DeVries - Moorhead
on: 2023-07-12 07:35:21

I see records show this plant historically was way north of Clay county. The records show Douglas county and I've seen populations there in remnant prairie. Do you feel prior to settlement this plant would have been widespread through Ottertail, Wilkins and Clay county?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-12 10:49:58

John, records of this species date back to 1878 and those in the northern two-thirds of the state are few and far between, the majority of which were recorded during the DNR's county biological surveys that started in 1987. So it is unlikely this was ever widespread in northwest MN.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.