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What is a Mexican Hat Plant?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing

There are a few different plants called the Mexican hat plant with the most common of these being a brightly colored wildflower native to North America. In rare cases it also can refer to a certain species of poisonous houseplant. The wildflower's scientific name is Ratibida columnifera, and it has several other nicknames including "prairie coneflower," "long-headed coneflower" and "thimbleflower."

It is native to North America and grows profusely in the wild and is very easy to grow in gardens as well. Aside from providing natural beauty, the Mexican hat plant is reputed to have some medicinal properties as well.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The Mexican hat plant gets its name from the unique look of its flowers. They bear a strong resemblance to the high-crowned, wide-brimmed Mexican sombreros often worn for fiestas and special occasions. The flower rises up from the leafy bottom part of the plant on a long stalk. The center disk, or flower head, is tall and cone shaped, with petals all around the bottom like the brim of a hat. The flower head is usually reddish brown, and the petals usually are red with yellow edges. When a breeze is blowing, fields of the flowers have been said to look like people dancing while wearing sombreros.

The native area of the Mexican hat plant is the southwestern United States, and it is commonly found in states ranging from southeastern California and Arizona eastward to Missouri and Arkansas. It is also found in some areas of Mexico. Its preferred habitat is the prairie and grasslands, where the weather is often sunny and dry during the growing season. However, it's tough enough to grow anywhere and is often spotted on roadsides and along railroad tracks, among other areas traditionally inhospitable to plant life.

The Mexican hat plant has been known to grow spontaneously in people's gardens as well, and many people plant them due to its colorful flowers and long blooming season. The plant usually flowers from May until at least August, but it can bloom all the way to October if conditions are right. The Mexican hat plant is extremely easy to grow. It needs lots of sun, but otherwise can grow in almost any kind of soil, doesn't require fertilizer, and can tolerate drought conditions.

It's a useful plant to have in the garden, because the flowers on the plant will often attract bees and butterflies. There are also several other reputed Native American medicinal uses for the Mexican hat plant. Tea brewed from the stems and leaves is supposed to ease stomach pain, and tea from the flowers is supposed to provide headache relief. In cases of poison ivy and snake bite the affected areas can be washed with boiled leaves and stems. Some people also enjoy drinking tea from the leaves as a beverage.

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