Aster family (Asteraceae)
Description: This perennial plant is unbranched and about 3-4' tall. The central stem is winged, with a slight scattering of small white hairs on the ridges. The alternate leaves are about 5" long and 2" wide, lanceolate to ovate in shape, rather soft in texture, and covered with small white hairs. This gives the leaves a fuzzy light green appearance, especially on their undersides.
The inflorescence at the apex of the plant has several daisy-like composite flowers on rather short pedicels with abundant long white hairs. These composite flowers are bright yellow, about 2–2½" across, and become rather ragged in appearance after they pass their prime. Each flower has 6-12 ray florets, which spread outward horizontally from the central cone (roughly), rather than drooping. The disk florets present a pincushion-like appearance, with each disk floret projecting outward and visibly separated from the others. The blooming period is early to mid-summer, and lasts about a month. There is no noticeable scent to the flowers. This plant often forms colonies from its rhizomes.
Cultivation: The preference is full to partial sun, and mesic conditions. During a drought this plant sometimes wilts, but recovers readily after significant rainfall. This plant often flourishes in soil that is loamy, and will tolerate some clay or stones. The foliage is rarely bothered by disease.
Range & Habitat: The native Yellow Crownbeard occurs occasionally in the southern 3/5 of Illinois, from Peoria to Champaign-Urbana, and southward. It is apparently absent elsewhere (see Distribution Map). It occurs in mesic black soil prairies, rocky upland forests, savannas, thickets, limestone glades, and along railroads. It is especially likely to be observed along railroad prairies.
Faunal Associations: Primarily long-tongued bees visit the flowers for pollen or nectar. These include bumblebees, honeybees, large Leaf-Cutting bees, Little Carpenter bees, and various Cuckoo bees. Other visitors include Halictine bees, Dagger bees, and Thread-Waisted wasps. The caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) and Basilodes pepita (Gold Moth) feed on the foliage.
Photographic Location: The photographs were taken at the Red Bison Railroad Prairie in Savoy, Illinois.
Comments: This is an attractive plant because of the fuzzy leaves; the composite flowers are an additional bonus. Yellow Crownbeard, along with other members of the genus, has been oddly neglected in many prairie field guides, even though it clearly occurs in tallgrass prairies. Nor is it easy to obtain seed or plants from nursuries that specialize in native wildflowers, possibly because of the more southern distribution of this species. Another member of this genus that sometimes occurs in prairies in Illinois, Verbesina alternifolia (Wingstem), is a taller plant that blooms later. It has long coarse leaves that are sandpapery, rather than soft and fuzzy, and its ray florets droop around the central cone of each flower. A scientific synonym of Yellow Crownbeard is Actinomeris helianthoides.