Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Yellow Coneflower

The sweltering heat and humidity of the midwestern summer season are upon us, and many of my exotic babies, natives of milder climates, suffer, while a few plants hailing from more southern climates, rejoice. But the plants that do best, year in and year out, are natives. So this friday's fabulous flower is a native of the tall grass prairie, the yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata). Some people confuse the yellow coneflower with the black-eyed susan, which is in another genus altogether. Both are members of the sunflower family, so actually this isn't a fabulous flower, but a fabulous inflorescence composed of brown radially symmetrical disk flowers centrally and yellow bilaterally symmetrical ray flowers appearing like petals (as in "she loves me, she loves me not") around the periphery. The yellow corollas of ray flowers droop downward (as shown), while the corollas of black-eyed susans are held more or less out at right angles (there are other differences too). The disk flowers in the center (top) of the button haven't opened yet. Inflorescences like these present the appearance of a single flower because that's the point, to cluster a bunch of small flowers in such a way as to present a bigger display. Pollinators always looking for the biggest reward are attracted to bigger displays, and inflorescences like these are one way plants with small flowers enhance their attractiveness and reproductive success.

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