Prairie coneflower blossoms are composed of a grey to purple central cone or cylinder surrounded by a skirt of yellow “petals”, which are actually individual flowers known as ray florets. Occasionally a form of this plant (R. columnifera var. pulcherrima) occurs where the ray florets are dark bronze instead of yellow. The flowers stand tall at the tips of 30–70 cm stalks. These showy plants thrive in dry grasslands, disturbed areas and roadsides.
The central cone, covered with tiny individual flowers called disk florets, is edible, and reportedly tastes like corn. The Blackfoot used the roots to produce a yellow or orange dye. (Wilkinson 281)
Growth habit and range: Prairie coneflower is an erect herbaceous perennial plant commonly found on dry sites throughout the southern third of the province. It grows to a height of 25–60 cm.
Description: The leaves are alternate on the stem, green to grey-green in colour, covered with short hairs, and 3–10 cm in length. They are mostly present on the lower portions of the grooved stems and are deeply divided into several lobes. The flowers appear from July to September and are borne on the ends of the branched stems. Ray florets are bright yellow (rarely purple to brown) in colour, 1–3 cm in length, deeply notched at the tip, and number 3–7 per blossom. The disk florets are grey to purple in colour and are held on an elongated, central, conical head measuring up to 4 cm in length. The fruit is a flattened, grey, hairy achene measuring 2 mm long.
Wilkinson, Kathleen. 1999. Wildflowers of Alberta: A Guide to Common Wildflowers and Other Herbaceous Plants. University of Alberta Press and Lone Pine Publishing, AB.