You might guess that this is a composite (Family Asteraceae), and you’d be right. Then, you might assume it is a sunflower or a coneflower because of its color and size. I would. But from there, can you take it to species and spout off the common name? I usually stop short right about there, because I think the sunflowers are too darn hard to sort out!
But for some reason, this pretty flower grabbed my attention. It kept leaning over the walking path and begging me to name it. And so I finally gave in, took some specimens home, and got down to it.
The plant is tall. It grows 3 to 9 feet in height. The leaves are alternate. The lower leaves are haphazardly lobed or divided, and they have toothed margins; the upper leaves vary widely in shape, and some very small ones have entire margins. See the photo below for a sample of the leaves.
The flowers appear at the top of the plant and are loosely arranged in small groups. They vary in size, but can be 2 to 4 inches across. The center of the flower is domed (like half of a globe), and made up of green to yellow disk flowers. The outside of the flower consists of 6-18 bright yellow ray flowers. In older flowers, the disk flowers mature into erect tubes, while the ray flowers droop downward over time. Check out the tubular disk flowers in the photo below.
So with all that said, this is the Green-Headed Coneflower, a perennial that likes moist conditions. It can be found growing on floodplains and in ditches (these were photographed along the banks of Tom’s Creek in Blacksburg), as well as in semi-shaded areas along the edge of woods.
Medicinal uses for Green-Headed Coneflower include treatment for burns, worms, and urinary ailments. It was utilized for these purposes by both Native Americans and early settlers. Interestingly, it is toxic to livestock and should be removed from active pastures.
Note the species name is laciniata, which refers to the deeply cut leaves. The term actually means torn or cut. Other common names for this plant include cutleaf coneflower, cone-disk sunflower, and just– coneflower. Look for it in late summer– it can be found in flower from July through first frost.
View photos of Gray-Headed Coneflower on the next page.