Mexican hat plant care

Plant of the Week: Coneflower, Mexican Hat

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Mexican Hat is an easy to grow, but usually short lived perennial that provides summer color for droughty places in the garden. (Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman)

Coneflower, Mexican Hat
Latin: Ratipida

Though I’ve known the wildflower Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnaris) since my childhood growing up on a dryland farm in central Oklahoma, I haven’t thought of it until recently when I read Michael McGarrity’s 1997 book Mexican Hat on my iPad.

Due to the magic of e-books it is now incredibly easy and addictive to read all manner of novels even though they have long been out of print. My latest addiction is reading books in the vein of the Tony Hillerman mystery series based in the Rocky Mountain west. Authors such as McGarrity, Craig Johnson and C. J. Box spin tales where the landscape itself becomes one of the main characters in their novels.

There are seven species of Ratibida described with all of them native to North America, but only four are found in the United States. They are summer blooming perennial herbs of the daisy family. Two are commonly grown in gardens, the aforementioned Mexican Hat and the Gray-head or Drooping Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata).

Gray-head coneflower or drooping coneflower blooms from midsummer to early fall and can reach four feet in height. (Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman)

The two species are easily differentiated with Mexican hat (R. columnaris)being smaller (about 2 feet tall) with finely dissected leaves that are mostly on the lower half of the plant. It has fibrous roots and, though it is perennial and doesn’t flower until the second year after seeds are planted, it tends to be short lived in the garden.

The 2-inch wide flowers are typical of the daisy family except that the center portion of the flower where the mass of brown disk florets is borne is much extended and can stretch to 2 inches in length. The drooping ray petals are usually in shades of reddish-brown with varying widths of yellow banding near the end. Plants bloom from early summer until early fall but never completely covering the plant, instead creating an ongoing sprinkling of color. Though this species is primarily centered in the drier parts of the prairie states it is found almost everywhere except the Pacific Northwest and New England. The commercial breeding of Ratibida for flower garden use has centered on this species.

The gray-head coneflower (R. pinnata)is a larger plant which reaches 4 to 5 feet in height with pinnately cut leaves that are larger in size and covered with whitish pubescence. It is tap-rooted and tends to be long lived in the garden. It is native to the tall-grass prairie regions of the Great Plains and is found in moist glades throughout most of the eastern states.

The yellow flowers are to 3 to 4 inches across with the inch-long column of disk flowers grayish in color when the bloom first opens. Once they mature the column becomes brown like black-eyed-Susan. Plants bloom through most of the summer. Plants can become a bit floppy in the border and cutting them back hard after the first flush of flowers will result in a second, later bloom cycle.

The coneflowers described here are very closely related to black-eyed-Susans (Rudbeckia) from which they are separated by the shape of their achenes (seeds). The genus was established in 1819 by Constantine Rafinesque (1783-1840), an early American émigré who became one of our most productive self-taught field naturalists who named more than 6,700 plants.

He was interested in plants, animals, marine life, linguistics and Native American culture and published reports in all these areas. Though he sought recognition as a scientist during his lifetime, it didn’t happen until well after his death when the scientific community begrudgingly acknowledged that self-made souls with a keen intellect could do significant work.

Mexican hat and gray-head coneflower are good additions to wildflower plantings and for inclusion in the perennial border. They are best in full sun with the former tolerating more droughty conditions than the latter.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired

Retired Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – August 29, 2014

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.

Mexican Hat Coneflower Facts

Mexican Hat (also known as upright prairie coneflower, long-headed coneflower, and Mexican Hat Flower) is an interesting native perennial that has unique blooms. The flower has somewhat resemble sombreros (hence the common name!). Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera) is part of the prairie coneflower group, and in the aster family.

This native plant thrives in full sun and well drained soil. I grow mine in rocky clay, and they love it! They don’t get too big, as mine never exceed 2’ and bloom in late May or Early June, and bloom well into July. These flowers are loved by bees. They produce tons of blooms providing a valuable nectar source. This plant produces a taproot, and is thus quite drought tolerant.

Allegedly, the origin of the common name “Mexican Hat Flower” comes from the slight resemblance this flower has to a traditional Sombrero. I can see why someone would come up with this name, particularly for the variety that is more yellow than red.

The petal colors can range from mostly yellow to all red. The plants I’ve grown have always been full of blooms, and keep their foliage all summer into fall. Ratibida columnifera has a well earned reputation for being a tough, hardy perennial. Mexican Hat can naturalize an area, so could be useful for helping stabilizing banks, etc. It does tolerate competition, and can make a good border. But will naturalize easily. I’ll give you updates to mine, as I had 5 mature plants last year.

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Growing Mexican Hat from seed

This is an easy plant to grow from seed. Winter sow them in February or early enough to give them 30 days of cold moist stratification. Then, just plant them on the surface, or barely covered by 1/8″ soil (3 mm). I’ve always had a very high germination rate from these plants. So, you won’t need many seeds. I start them in six-cell pots that are 3″ deep, then transplant into 4” pots after a few weeks. Then, transplant into the garden when they are about 4” tall.

Mexican Hat Seedlings. You can see the final leaf structure already forming.

Growing Requirements

Sun sun sun! These plants love the sun and can be a great addition if you have a drier area. They don’t require much watering, but as always – if you see the edges of leaves turning brown and crispy, then give them a drink. They may need division after several years, but overall they are full, easy to grow plants. Just try to make sure they are in well drained soil, as this plant can succumb to root rot.

I’ve had them flop over after a while, as the stems can get a bit top heavy. But, I’ve found this to be something that happens to individual stems. Overall, this is a very easy plant to grow, and gives long blooms.

** SIDE NOTE: –> Read here to learn why we say NO TO RAISED BED GARDENS. **

Typical Uses

Mexican Hat is a good ornamental wildflower, but you need to have more than one. A single specimen won’t ‘pop’ with color as much as a small cluster. I personally have 5 (as of now) grouped, and use them as a border between some taller flowers and smaller plants (winecups). They can also be used to reestablish or naturalize an area, with the large amount of seed they produce and the ease of germination.

Does Mexican Hat make a good cut flower?

Absolutely. This flower has produced so many blooms for me that it always finds it way into bouquets. The blooms tend to last quite a long time in a vase. And the best part – when it is time to compost the flowers, you can be assured that the plants have produced tons of new blooms for a new bouquet!

Is Mexican Hat Edible?

Native Americans used this plant in a variety of ways. A tea would be made form the leaves and flower heads and used for treating various ailments like cough, fever, nausea. But, I would suggest you go to a pharmacy to treat any ailments you have, as I’m not aware of any truly ‘accepted’ medicinal properties of this plant.

Additionally, Native Americans could also produce a yellow or red dye from the boiled flower petals.

Harvesting Mexican Hat Coneflower Seed

You can get 100+ seeds from a single seed head. Very easy to harvest!

Harvesting Mexican Hat Coneflower seed (Link is to a video) is one of the easiest – maybe even an easier seed to harvest than Blue Vervain! Several weeks after the blooms have dried, clip off several seed heads. Then just roll them in your fingers and voila! You have several hundred chaff-free seeds! Store them in a cool dry place, in envelopes or bags until next year when you are ready to plant. Please have a look at our detailed guide to saving/storing your own flower seeds. There are a lot of great tips in there.

Faunal Associations

Bees love this plant. It is the main visitor I see when I go to admire them in our wildflower garden. As far as pests go, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed rabbit damage on any of my Mexican Hat Coneflowers. This is significant, as I have them very close to other plants that the rabbits love, such as Winecups and Echinacea Purpurea.

Mexican Hat Facts / Reference Table

Common Name Mexican Hat, Mexican Hat Coneflower, Long-headed coneflower
Scientific name

Ratibida columnifera

Bloom Time Late Spring – Summer
Bloom Duration Long, 6 weeks +
Color Red/Yellow
Bloom Size 2-3” (5-7 cm)
Characteristics Individual spikes surrounded at the base by yellow/red petals
Height 2’ (65cm)
Spacing/Spread 1′-2’ (32-65 cm)
Light Requirements Full Sun
Soil Types Anything well drained
Moisture Dry to Medium
Maintenance Minimal. Plants may lean over if too tall
Typical Use Flower beds, border gardens, meadows
Fauna Associations Bees frequent this flower. Also the following caterpillars; Sunflower Moth, Blackberry Looper Moth, Wavy-Lined Emerald – and a few more not listed.
Larval Host None
Sowing Depth Surface
Stratification 30 days cold / moist stratification will significantly improve germination rate
Native Range The original native range is from the Eastern Rocky Mountains in Canada, to the great lakes – then South to Texas-Arizona. Although it has been established in just about the whole continental USA except for Oregon/Washington.
Notes

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REASONS NOT TO BUILD RAISED BED GARDENS

EASIEST METHOD TO REMOVE SOD BY HAND

HOW TO COMPOST THE EASY WAY

NATIVE PLANT FACT SHEETS

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Peffley: Mexican Hat plant named for its resemblance to broad-rimmed sombrero

Common names of plants are often selected for an object they resemble. The Mexican Hat inflorescence with its broad petals circling a conical seed head is aptly named, as it resembles a broad-rimmed sombrero.

The oblong, spherical central seed head with its hundreds of tiny yellow disk flowers extends above the surrounding droopy, dark red petals splashed with yellow. It is variously called Mexican Hat, Red-spike Mexican Hat, Upright Prairie Coneflower, Long-headed Coneflower and Thimbleflower, but often known by its scientific name, Ratibida columnifera.

Ratibida columnifera is a perennial wildflower native to Canada and the lower continental United States. Its distribution ranges from the West Coast, except Washington, Oregon and Nevada, to the East Coast, except Kentucky and Virginia.

Ratibida is perfectly suited for xeriscapes and landscape sites: It is adapted to USDA zones 2-9, is drought tolerant, can grow with sparse irrigation and will establish in well-drained sand, loam, clay, caliche, limestone and high pH soils. Its optimal growth is in full sun but will flower in partial shade. It has an open, airy branching habit, blooms in late summer and is a prolific pollen and nectar producer, which attracts bees and butterflies.

Birds will forage on the seeds if blossoms are allowed to remain and mature. It reseeds readily and for that reason some consider it a weedy species.

Mexican Hat is found on dry plains, prairies, and is common along roadsides.

A cousin to Mexican Hat, Ratibida pinnata, has bright yellow petals and is known by the common name Prairie Coneflower, Prairie Grayhead Coneflower or Yellow Coneflower. At first glance, it looks like a solid yellow Mexican Hat, but the species name pinnata tells its story.

Prairie Coneflower is named for the shape of its leaves, which are botanically called “pinnatifid,” more simply, leaves that are lobed but not all the way down to the central axis where leaves are attached. Prairie Coneflower has a gray seed head and what Easyliving Wildflowers calls a “drooping petticoat of yellow flowers,” while the common Mexican Hat, Ratibida columnifera, has dark red and yellow petals.

Mexican Hat Trivia, according to Easyliving Wildflowers: Tea can be made from leaves and flower heads. Cheyenne Indians boiled leaves and stems to make a poultice to draw poison out of rattlesnake bites. Infusions were used to relieve the pain of headaches and to treat stomachaches and fevers. Liquid from boiled leaves was used as a wash to relieve pain and to treat poison ivy rash. Caution: These are anecdotal folklore and not intended to be recommendations for personal trials.

Some information from Plant profile, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Services; Easyliving Wildflowers.

ELLEN PEFFLEY taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of those at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two onion varieties. She is now the sole proprietor of From the Garden, a market garden farmette. You can email her at [email protected]

Ratibida Seed – Mexican Hat Flower Seeds

Flower Specifications

Season: Perennial

USDA Zones: 3 – 9

Height: 12 – 36 inches

Bloom Season: Summer to early fall

Bloom Color: Red and yellow

Environment: Full sun

Soil Type: Well-drained, pH 5.8 – 7.2

Deer Resistant: Yes

Planting Directions

Temperature: 65F

Average Germ Time: 21 – 28 days

Light Required: Yes

Depth: 1/8 inch

Sowing Rate: 1 ounce per 1,250 square feet

Moisture: Keep seed moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 18 inches

Care & Maintenance: Ratibida

Ratibida (Ratibida Columnifera Mexican Hat) – Mexican Hat is a fast-growing wildflower that is not fussy about soils and is easy to grow from Ratibida seeds. The flowers are showy and have a unique look! The blooms are sombrero-shaped, with red to yellow petals drooping down, and a central brownish red cone. Ratibida Mexican Hat works wonderfully in a naturalized setting or meadow. It’s drought tolerant, but if it has some moisture, the bloom season will last longer. The Mexican Hat flower is a great source of nectar for beneficial insects, and the Ratibida plants are deer resistant.

The Mexican Hat plant grows best in full sun and prefers very hot, dry locations. It is helpful to divide or thin out Mexican Hat plants every few years to maintain their vigor. Blooms mid-summer and into the fall and puts on a beautiful show! It is very easy to propagate from Mexican Hat flower seeds in spring or fall though a fall seeding is recommended. How To Grow Mexican Hat From Seed: Ratibida seeds can be sown into weed-free soil with the top 1 – 2 inches loosened. Lightly rake the flower seeds into the loose soil and barely cover. Keep the Ratibida Columnifera seeds moist until germination, and water the plants until they are established. Ratibida plants from grown from seed usually bloom the second year.

Approximately 52,000 seeds per ounce.

Mexican Hat Plant Care: How To Grow A Mexican Hat Plant

The Mexican hat plant (Ratibida columnifera) gets its name from its distinctive shape – a tall cone surrounded by drooping petals that looks something like a sombrero. Mexican hat plant care is very easy, and the payoff is high, as long as you’re careful about spreading. Keep reading to learn more about how to grow a Mexican hat plant.

What is a Mexican Hat Plant?

Also called the prairie coneflower and thimble-flower, the Mexican hat plant is native to the prairies of the American Midwest, but it has spread throughout and can be grown in most of North America.

Its characteristic shape is made up of a tall, leafless stalk that can reach 1.5-3 feet (.5-1

m.) in height, ending in a single flower head of a reddish brown to black spiky cone rising above 3-7 drooping red, yellow, or red and yellow petals.

Most cultivars are perennials, though a particularly harsh winter will kill it off. Its foliage – deeply cleft leaves near the base – has a strong odor that works as a fantastic deer repellent.

How to Grow a Mexican Hat Plant

The Mexican hat plant is a hardy wildflower and very easy to grow. In fact, the most likely problem is that it will crowd out weaker plants nearby. Plant it by itself or mingled with other strong, tall perennials that can stand up to it.

Mexican hat plant care is minimal. It will grow in virtually any well-drained soil in full sun and is very drought tolerant, though regular watering during very dry periods will produce better flowers.

You can grow Mexican hat plant from seed, though you may not see flowers until the second year. Spread the seed in autumn, lightly raking the soil to ensure a good mixture.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try, use this Mexican hat plant information and grow some of your own for enjoyment year after year.

Mexican Hat Plant/Mother of Thousands

Recently a fellow horticulturalist and good friend of mine gave me a Mexican Hat Plant. I’d never seen one before, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t that thrilled with it. It just looked like a plain and nondescript succulent to me. However, I gratefully took it and placed it into my collection of house plants. I placed it on a sunny window and watered it when it was dry, and decided to love it as much as the other plant residences I tend to.

The truth is, after working all day, I often come home, water the plants but don’t always stop and admire these green creatures. Worse, for those who know me, I can’t see anything without my glasses on. Turns out that one night, I had my glasses on when I went to water him. I couldn’t believe what I saw! The Mexican Hat plant, native to Madagascar, south Africa and Calcutta, is one of the most intriguing plants I have ever seen (with my glasses on). Along the edge of each leaf were hundreds of little baby plants complete with roots….attached to the mother leaf! This plant has live babies! The little babies fall off the mother plant when brushed and land in the soil below fully equipped to grow. How efficient is that? Known as Mother of Thousands, Alligator plant, Mexican Hat Plant and no doubt a Weed, this plant is a type of Kalanchoe (Bryophyllum) that although is considered toxic, is also used with good results to treat cancer naturally. The plant rarely flowers, and rarely produces seeds, and why bother when it already has effectively figured out how to reproduce itself without worrying about pollinators? This plant is a unique genius, worthy of a place amongst the plant lovers collection!

Ratibida Species, Mexican Hats, Thimbleflower, Upright Prairie Coneflower

View this plant in a garden

Category:

Perennials

Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun

Foliage:

Herbaceous

This plant is resistant to deer

Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us

Height:

24-36 in. (60-90 cm)

Spacing:

15-18 in. (38-45 cm)

Hardiness:

USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 °C (-40 °F)

USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 °C (-35 °F)

USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)

USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us

Danger:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Color:

Scarlet (dark red)

Gold (yellow-orange)

Bright Yellow

Maroon/Burgundy

Bloom Characteristics:

Flowers are good for cutting

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Spring/Early Summer

Mid Summer

Late Summer/Early Fall

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Non-patented

Propagation Methods:

By dividing the rootball

From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall

Seed Collecting:

Allow seedheads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds

Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

Regional

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Auburn, Alabama

Concho, Arizona

Maricopa, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona

Bigelow, Arkansas

Morrilton, Arkansas

Anderson, California

Hesperia, California

Magalia, California

Merced, California

Richmond, California

Sacramento, California

Fort Collins, Colorado

Kiowa, Colorado

Montrose, Colorado

Pueblo, Colorado

High Springs, Florida

Inverness, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida

Pompano Beach, Florida

Sarasota, Florida

Tallahassee, Florida

Atlanta, Georgia

Suwanee, Georgia

Boise, Idaho

Bolingbrook, Illinois

Itasca, Illinois

Joliet, Illinois

Olive Branch, Illinois

Palmyra, Illinois

Waukegan, Illinois

Delphi, Indiana

Indianola, Iowa

Pacific Junction, Iowa

Derby, Kansas

Barbourville, Kentucky

Benton, Kentucky

Ewing, Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky

Taylorsville, Kentucky

Bossier City, Louisiana

Greenwell Springs, Louisiana

Zachary, Louisiana

Foxboro, Massachusetts

Ferrysburg, Michigan

Mason, Michigan

Anoka, Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Mathiston, Mississippi

Lincoln, Nebraska

Henderson, Nevada

Las Vegas, Nevada

Manchester, New Hampshire

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mesquite, New Mexico

Roswell, New Mexico

Clifton Park, New York

Pittsford, New York

Cliffside, North Carolina

Garner, North Carolina

Belfield, North Dakota

Cincinnati, Ohio

Fremont, Ohio

Glouster, Ohio

Haviland, Ohio

Lynchburg, Ohio

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Sayre, Pennsylvania

Columbia, South Carolina

Hixson, Tennessee

Arlington, Texas

Austin, Texas

Boerne, Texas

Brownwood, Texas

Buffalo, Texas

Bulverde, Texas

Carrollton, Texas

Comanche, Texas

Corpus Christi, Texas

Dallas, Texas

De Leon, Texas

Denison, Texas

Desoto, Texas

Dripping Springs, Texas

Fort Worth, Texas

Frisco, Texas

Garland, Texas

Gilmer, Texas

Haltom City, Texas

Harlingen, Texas

Hemphill, Texas

Huntsville, Texas

Kerrville, Texas

Princeton, Texas

San Antonio, Texas(2 reports)

Spicewood, Texas

Spring Branch, Texas

Magna, Utah

Ogden, Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah(2 reports)

South Jordan, Utah

Sterling, Virginia(2 reports)

Clarkston, Washington

Clarkston Heights-Vineland, Washington

Kalama, Washington

Spokane, Washington

Vancouver, Washington

West Clarkston-Highland, Washington

Morgantown, West Virginia

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Casper, Wyoming

show all

Do the Mexican Hat Dance: Growing Ratibida Columnifera from Seed

December 13, 2018

What’s hotter than a Scotch bonnet? A garden that explodes with the Mexican hat flower’s fiery hues of yellow, rust, brown, and…Fuego!

Ratibida columnifera are among our favorite easy-to-grow, long-blooming ornamentals. They’re perfect for neglected, unimproved areas on your property that you’re not quite ready to call part of your “garden” without feeling like a liar. They don’t need much water once they’re established, and they require virtually no maintenance. As long as they have lots of sunshine and well-drained soil, these herbaceous perennials will rapidly grow and bloom from May until your first hard frost…and they’ll return for encore presentations the following spring.

We tend to think that Mexican hat flowers look less like sombreros than they do graceful dancers twirling long, brightly-colored skirts while performing El Jarabe Tapatio, the traditional Mexican hat dance. (Which, by the way, is the National Dance of Mexico.) Multiple thin, bare stems tower above frothy basal clumps, topped by two-inch wide flowers that resemble echinacea—but with more droop in the petals, and larger, oblong central disks that can extend as much as two inches. Mexican hat flowers have only seven to ten petals, and these are shorter and more paddle-shaped than those of most other coneflowers. All types of coneflowers, including Mexican hat, are members of the aster and daisy family (Asteraceae).

Pro Tip: Do you have a neighbor who decorates his yard with old transmissions? Does he use a 1980s satellite dish as a birdbath for turkey vultures? Maybe he’s just a jerk who complains that your garden’s inviting dangerous, so-called Africanized honeybees into the neighborhood. Here’s what you do: Scatter some Ratibida columnifera seeds on his property when he’s not looking. At least some will grow without soil cultivation, just enough to make a statement. If you squint at the flower’s profile, and if you’ve got at least an ounce of snark in your soul, you’ll notice that the flower’s profile bears a snicker-inducing (but somewhat subtle) resemblance to a one-fingered salute.

Mexican hat’s sage-green leaves are almost feathery, being deeply lobed to the point at which they look like they’re branching. They’re also quite pungent, whether or not you crush them. It’s not an unpleasant odor; rabbits would disagree, but deer will chomp the flowers if they can avoid the leaves.

Grow them en masse for the best effect, since they don’t have an overabundance of foliage. You can use that to your advantage by using them as border plants against a backdrop of denser species. Mix them with ox-eye daisies, or for a full-on sunshine overload, intersperse them with gloriosa daisies and blanket flowers.

If that’s too much gold n’ yellow for you—and remember, Mexican hat can have rich brown tones, too—plant them with purple hues. We like pairing them with anise hyssop; your local pollinators will appreciate the buffet. You can try growing them with purple coneflowers, though they might be overshadowed by the slightly larger, denser plant. If you grow them together, be sure to offset them a bit and keep your R. columnifera in the foreground.

Both the pollen and nectar from Mexican hat flowers attract a huge variety of beneficial insects, and their ripening seeds bring small birds to your garden. Either leave the spent flowers to dry on the plant, or cut, invert and dry the heads in a well-ventilated, arid area. You can bundle them up and hang them near a bird feeder, or use the method we suggest in the next section.

Here’s the TL; DR (or, for you non-millennials, “Cliff’s Notes”):

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: Short-lived perennial in zones 3 through 9.
  • Sunlight Preferences: Prefers full sun, but will tolerate light afternoon shade.
  • Moisture Requirements: Drought resistant, but regular watering will produce the best blooms.
  • Soil Preferences: As long as it’s well-draining, anything goes. Ideal pH is between 6.8 and 7.2, so you might need to add some lime to your beds.
  • Plant Height: 12″ to 36″
  • Plant Width: 6″ to 18″
  • Growth Habit: Clumping, upright.
  • Bloom Period: Late spring until the first frost.
  • Bloom Color: Yellow, orange, red, rust, brown…and any combination of each.

Mexican hat plants are resilient against insect and invertebrate pests, but in overly wet conditions, they might experience fungal problems at the soil surface. Err on the dry side once they’ve become established in order to prevent issues.

The long stems make them good cut flowers, though they’re not that long-lasting. Be sure to put them in water immediately after cutting (as in, carry a bucket or vase with you) and, if the petals drop off sooner than you’d like, consider keeping the center cones on display in wildflower arrangements. As the colorful disk florets fade away and drop off, the white centers look striking above the wilting petals.

Native range, history, and medicinal uses

Don’t confuse this plant with the Madagascan succulent Bryophyllum daigremontianum, which also goes by the same common name. Ratibida columnifera is originally from northern Mexico and the American Southwest, though it’s found in the wild (and considered a native) in most of North America, including Canada. Most gardeners know it as Mexican hat, but its other names include:

  • Thimble flower
  • Upright prairie coneflower
  • Prairie coneflower
  • Columnar prairie coneflower
  • Long-headed coneflower

It thrives in areas near limestone deposits, and the Southwest is ideal for Mexican hat. In fact, you might find Ratibida columnifera growing near Mexican Hat, Utah, a remote but popular launching spot for paddlers exploring the San Juan River and ancient Pueblo Indian sites. Zuni cultures in Arizona and New Mexico reportedly made tea from the entire plant and drank it to ease stomach aches. (Keep that in mind the next time you have too many shots of Patron at your next garden party.) According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, if you pass out in a patch of poison ivy, or you find out the hard way that a rattlesnake took a siesta in your boot, bathing in infusions made from the leaves and stems helped to ease the pain.

Growing Mexican Hat from Seed

We recommend sowing these seeds directly outdoors as soon after your last spring frost as possible. You can start them indoors under lights 6 to 8 weeks ahead of your last predicted frost date, but transplanted Mexican hat doesn’t thrive as well due to their fast-growing taproot. If you absolutely must start them indoors, be sure to germinate and transplant them in biodegradable pots to reduce root shock.

There’s no absolute requirement to treat the seeds prior to planting, though a month of cold stratification in the fridge will give spring-sown seeds a boost. For this reason, you may opt to plant them in the fall.

To care for spring-sown (and indoor-started) plants, keep the soil moist until the seedlings have emerged and grown at least four true leaves. Since Mexican hat seeds require sunlight to germinate, prepare the soil by raking all organic debris and small rocks until you have a nice smooth surface. Then, gently press the seeds onto the surface, or scatter and—also gently—firm the soil with the flat side of a (garden) hoe. Water the area with your hose nozzle on the finest setting so as not to drive the seeds beneath the surface.

Here’s the down and dirty on growing Mexican hat from seed:

  • Seed Treatment: None required; cold stratification recommended.
  • Seed Depth: Surface; no deeper than 1/8″.
  • Seed Spacing: Plant or thin to 18″.
  • Days to Germination: Between 7 and 21 days at a minimum of 65°F.

While you can fudge the spacing between individual Mexican hat plants down to about ten to twelve inches, they can dominate other less-aggressive neighboring species. And while R. columnifera doesn’t raise any alarms as an invasive plant, it will easily naturalize in your garden…or your neighbor’s. It’s a short-lived perennial, only living for two or three seasons, so a little self-sowing won’t hurt if you want to keep them growing in your yard.

Mexican hat seeds have a papery husk, so if you do scatter them, do it when there’s no breeze to prevent them from sailing away. If you want to collect your own seeds after the plants have faded away and their center “cones” have dried, just roll them between your palms to harvest the seeds and store them in a cool, dry place.

Plan (and Plant) Your Garden with Seed Needs

As much as we love ornamentals that have been refined and cultivated by human selection over hundreds of years, we’re always astonished by the raw beauty of North American native wildflowers. Mexican hat plants, with their brilliant earth tones and unusual shape, score high on our list. Then again, it’s nearly impossible to choose favorites, which is why we’re always adding new “must-haves” to our expanding collection of vegetable, herb, and ornamental plants.

Our catalog is online-only. We’re often asked if we mail out “analog” catalogs, but we’d prefer to keep our costs down—saving you money, too. As soon as one issue would arrive in your mailbox, it would be outdated anyway. So bookmark our website, check in often, and contact us to join our spam-free mailing list to find out what’s new!

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