Ratibida columnifera forma pulcherrima

Mexican Hat - Ratibida columnifera forma pulcherrima
Hillsboro, NM

Ratibida columnifera forma pulcherrima, Mexican Hat, is found at mid-elevations in the Black Range, often in disturbed areas.

Sub-species, variety, and form are all levels below the species level and are used to describe distinct populations more precisely.  Sub-species is the only level of identification below the species level for mammals.  Variety and form are levels of identification below the species level which are used for plants, algae, and fungi.  Form (forma pl.) is below the level of variety.  In the subject case, “forma” is used to identify both the specific title but also the level of the title “pulcherrima”, when written in this manner the variety need not be designated.  Plant systematics are fluid, to say the least, and the trinomial nomenclature which works well with birds/mammals tends to be challenged in a world where there are so many species, varieties, etc...  And so much clinal variation.  The synonyms (names which are no longer used) which proliferate from such a system can be substantial in number.  A useful but often confusing effort made by humans trying to put everything into a box.  Makes me relish the simplicity of the English Common Name.

As to the common names.  A common name which is listed as a name of the species may or may not refer to a specific variety or form and thus may be “incorrect” when applied to a variety or form of the species which you are studying at the moment.  Something like this story:  When birding in Jalisco, Mexico I lost my hat, being bald, and the sun being intense in Jalisco the situation was going to get bad.  A friend reached into a bag and handed me a new baseball cap (literally) and told me this story.  At one point in time the Baltimore Oriole and Bullock’s Oriole were considered to be one species, the Northern Oriole.  At that time, the Baltimore Orioles baseball team needed some new hats and ordered some with the bird on the front.  The designer looked in a bird book and copied the Northern Oriole onto the hat and a bunch were made up.  Only, he copied the Bullock’s Oriole (not the Baltimore Oriole) - how was he to know?  My friend picked up many of these hats, since the Baltimore Orioles did not want them, and would give them away as memento when traveling.  So I came to have an official “Bullock’s Oriole Baseball Cap”.

The form Ratibida columnifera forma pulcherrima was most recently described by Merritt Lyndon Fernald in 1938.  Elmer Wooton & Paul Standley had considered the plant to be a full subspecies when they considered it in 1915 (Ratibida columnifera subsp. pulcherrima).  In 2006, this form was described as a variety in Botanical Magazine.  For our use, we will describe it as in the first sentence of this entry, for no other reason than that is how it is described in Vascular Plants of the Gila Wilderness, which we treat as the definitive source for the plants of our area.  This form is most commonly found in the Southwestern United States.

This species is eaten by cattle, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Elk, Pronghorn, Wild Turkey, and a variety of other game birds and small mammals.  Its nutritional value is generally considered poor.  The indigenous peoples of North America used this species for a variety of medicinal purposes.

The specimen, of this form, shown below was collected by:

© Robert Barnes 2018-2023