Rudbeckia laciniata – Green-Headed Coneflower

rudbeckia laciniata plantRudbeckia lanciniata is one of the four tall sunflowers which grow on the banks of the Nantahala river in the summertime.

I goes by the name of Green-Headed Coneflower, which is no surprise when one spots it.  It is also known commonly as Cutleaf Coneflower, but more about that later.

The plant is part of the Aster, or Sunflower family. Its inflorescence is composed of ray flowers and disk flowers.  The Green-Headed Coneflower got its name because its disk is distinctly greenish and the flowers remain closed most of the flowering season giving a very tight, green head.  It’s ray flowers (the yellow petals) droop down, so traveling in the mountains with several species of tall sunflowers along the roadsides, the Rudbeckia laciniatas are easy to spot and tell apart from the rest.

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The other common name associated with the plant is Cutleaf Coneflower and that is because as one of my wildflower books states about its leaves they are “deeply ternately or pinnately lobed” which means that some of the leaves are divided into three (ternate) and some of the leaves are arranged like a feather.  Pin is feather in Latin and so a pinnate leaf is feather-like with leaflets on both sides of a common axis. In botanical terms we would say that the leaf is “laciniate” which means deeply lobed. The first part of the plant’s name Rudbeckia is in honor of father and son Swedish botanists who lived in the 17th century and lanciniata, of course, describes one of its characteristics which is that it has these deeply lobed leaves.

The plant is tall, growing to about 5-8 feet in height in our very rich mountain soil, and likes plenty of moisture, so seeing it growing along a riverbank is no wonder. It makes an interesting spectacle with its various shaped leaves swaying in the mountain breeze and its seemingly tired, droopy bright flowers.

rudbeckia lanciniata_4 We see here the leaf cut into thirds (ternate)

rudbeckia lanciniata_0And here the pinnately lobed leaf.  But, single leaves are also part of this plant.  All in all, someone not that familiar with the ins and outs of botanical terms would say that the plant is a little confused.

rudbeckia lanciniata_3 - CopyWe are more used to plants with leaves which are more or less uniform, sometimes differing slightly from top to bottom.

One of the things which I thought was interesting this summer as I mulled over the sunflowers growing along the river was that while there were always plenty of bees, butterflies, beetles and bumblebees gathering nectar on the other sunflowers, the Green-Headed Coneflower plants were ignored by the insects.

That is, until the always droopy yellow petals were almost all gone and the green head disk flowers began to open up.  The insects feasted then on their nectar.

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