Updated: Feb 21, 2022
If all goes well, we will be introducing over 50 new species to our greenhouse offerings this year. I have been slowly adding them to the website and plan to list them all in an upcoming post, but when I got to Cutleaf Coneflower I decided this one warranted a post of its very own. Here are three reasons to find a space for the impressive Rudbecia laciniata.
1: A Mountain of Flowers
The first time I saw this plant, the blooms were at my eye-level and many were above. With a start I realized the plants were growing in a low area. Had their feet been at the same level as mine, they would have towered above me, a mass of graceful yellow flowers and textured leaves. Cutleaf Coneflower can reach 7 feet or more in the wet thicket habitats it favors and is a vigorous spreader, using rhizomes to create a dense colony. In regular garden soil it does not get quite as tall or spread as aggressively, but it may not be the best choice for small spaces. In most cases, this plant will fill its habitat with enthusiasm, making it a good choice for creating visual barriers. In fact, one of its common names, Outhouse Weed, probably originated with this plant's ability to create a little privacy where it was most needed.
2: Flowers for Days
All that mass is beautiful. The individual flowers have a classic wild coneflower look, with reflexed (drooping) yellow rays and greenish-yellow centers that inspire one of its many other common names - Green-headed Coneflower. The flowers are showy and numerous, with a long bloom time beginning in July and putting on a show right up until frost. Deeply cut foliage is attractive in its own right. A rosette of leaves at the base of the stem provides winter interest - at least until the snow comes.
3: Habitat Booster
Each time I visited the Cutleaf Coneflower patch closest to us, from early summer to fall, the dense clump buzzed with bees and fluttered with birds and butterflies. The open structure of coneflowers is great for pollinators. Coneflowers also host the larvae of Checkerspot butterflies and a variety of moths and other beneficial insects. Caterpillars in turn equal food for baby birds, making the mass of coneflowers a very productive habitat. With such sturdy stems, I would not be surprised to find that the plants contained bird nests right in the middle of all that luscious food. In fact, the Audubon Native Plant Database for beneficial bird plants lists Cutleaf Coneflower as a keystone species for birds in our area, especially Goldfinches, who feed on the seeds once the frost comes. With its long bloom time, dense clumps of stems, and massive numbers of flowers, Cutleaf Coneflower can really maximize the habitat value of your planting.
The Final Score
In our years of observing UP native plants, few match the impact of Cutleaf Coneflower. If you come across it in the wild, it demands your attention. Its height, showiness, long season blooms, and value to pollinators and wildlife are undeniably impressive. Resistance to deer, an easy-to-grow manner, and tolerance for a variety of light and soil conditions round out Cutleaf Coneflower's attributes. Even if you are sadly lacking in outhouses, Cutleaf Coneflower is a tremendous plant that is well worth the space.