by Sandy Swegel
What’s your favorite wildflower? When I ask that of people in Colorado, I often get answers like columbine, a delightful airy flower found in the mountains. But when I go into people’s gardens and see what they actually grow, I often find the wonderful yellow and red Ratiba columnifera that some call Mexican Hat plant or Prairie Coneflower.
Anyone who has driven in the prairie has seen massive fields of these red and yellow flowers growing among the grasses. This one to two foot high wildflower is perennial and sometimes doesn’t bloom until its second year. But once it starts blooming, it gives color and repeat blooms from midsummer to Fall. It does need some cold stratification for good germination. Everything else about the wildly hot-colored plant is easy. It grows in terrible soil. It will tolerate drought. Deer don’t like it. Ratiba likes sun but handles quite a bit of shade. It looks great mixed with grasses or in a summer garden with Black-eyed Susans and Purple Coneflower.
If just being cute and a sturdy plant isn’t enough, Ratiba is also an important food for native bees.
The only problem I have with this plant is getting the Mexican Hat Song out of my head!