Wandering the cow pasture this week, I noticed that a small clump of Ratibida columnifera, also known as Mexican Hat or Prairie Coneflower, has established itself just north of the fence line near my house. Finding Ratibida there was a surprising occurrence in my pasture, though after I thought about it, hardly a mysterious one. Ratibida columnifera IS native to Riley County Kansas, as is a cousin, Ratibida pinnata (the Gray Coneflower). The local Prairie Coneflower is, however, supposed to have only yellow-colored rays, as does the longer-rayed Gray Coneflower in this area. The plants that I found, a small clump about 4-5 feet around, is identical to the species form found farther south, with yellow and red-brown rays dropping down from the disk as you can see pictured at the right.
Don't lose any sleep over my find though, okay? This clump is a colony, I believe, of a Ratibida that I planted from purchased seed about 8 years ago in my garden beds. I grew it one year and one year only, hoping to see a large gorgeous, drought-resistant plant, but the small flowers and dusky coloring were disappointing so I spade-pruned it and never grew it again. This Prairie Coneflower has had the last laugh, though, because it re-seeded itself away from the controlling gardener's eyes. The newly found group exists in an area about 100 feet from the original planting, where at one time there was a cow watering tank and where the ground was previously chewed up by the cloven-hoofed dunderheads. The disturbed ground probably gave this perennial plant a beachhead to grow in, and it has likely existed without my knowledge ever since. At least I believe that to be the explanation because I've never found it growing elsewhere on my own or my neighbor's pastures.
I may have to give this formidable little creature another chance in my garden. If it can survive in competition with the native prairie, through drought and cold and wind, unaided for a number of years, then it can probably do well in my native wildflower bed. There, I might learn to appreciate it for what it is; a survivor.