Coneflowers (Rudbeckia maxima)
Rudbeckia is one of four genera within the flowering plant family Asteraceae whose members are commonly known as coneflowers; the others are Echinacea, Dracopis and Ratibida – which sound like the names of the daughters of a fairytale king (guess which is the ugly one). Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) also resides in the Conservatory Garden and together these two flowers constitute some of the loveliest of the mid-summer blooms.
A native Coneflowers, Rudbeckia maxima, has a form and foliage quite unlike other members of its genus. This Rudbeckia has large, glaucous (i.e., blue-green with a whitish blush on the surface) leaves that form a rosette on the ground. In early to mid-summer tall, wiry stems arch above, bearing yellow daisies with tapered green cones. Additional blooms can be coaxed if spent flowers are deadheaded back to the next leaf axil, where tiny buds can often be seen.
The facts – they are herbaceous, mostly perennial plants (some annual or biennial) growing to 0.5-3 m tall, with simple or branched stems. The leaves are spirally arranged, entire to deeply lobed, 5-25 cm long. The flowers are produced in daisy-like inflorescences, with yellow or orange florets arranged in a prominent, cone-shaped head; “cone-shaped” because the ray florets tend to point out and down as the flower head opens.
One of the most popular member of this family is the Black-eyed Susan (Rudibeckia hirta), which can be seen in the picture above. Coneflowers bloom from July to September. They form one of the most iconic scenes of late summer, a bed of bright orange-petalled flowers gently waving on a warm summer breeze, butterflies making their ballet-like rounds. One of the very rare places along 5th Avenue that could be described as bucolic.
One of the hidden wonders of Central Park is the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th St. A secluded oasis, just a few steps down from one of the City’s busiest thoroughfares; the garden offers a fragrant respite from the gasp and clatter of the urban afternoon.