The common name of Gaillardia pulchella is firewheel or blanketflower. During summer, their bright colors make them seem like jewels in the prairie.
The blanket flower is in the aster family, along with the daisy, aster, cup plant, compass plant, and dandelion. For plants in the aster family, what we consider a single flower is actually a head with a few to hundreds of flowers. For daisies and gaillardia, the center "button" has disk flowers. These are tube-shaped flowers, surrounded by ray flowers, the petals.
The gaillardia is an annual to short-lived perennial plant, growing up to 2 feet tall. The flower head is 1 1/2 to 3 inches wide, and has a reddish center with many tube-shaped disk flowers, surrounded by up to 16 ray flowers. Each ray flower is reddish and may have a yellow tip. Some plants may have ray flowers that are all red, and some may have ray flowers that are all yellow. Some gaillardia have only disk flowers, and look like fuzzy balls. Flowers bloom from Spring to Fall.
The gaillardia is often included in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) seed mixes for prairie plantings. It is native to tallgrass prairies, especially from Oklahoma southward, and has escaped to much of the tallgrass prairie area, which includes eastern Nebraska. Some types of gaillardia are native to many states, ranging from Florida to California.
Because it handles heat and drought well, this flower is very popular for gardens and native plantings. It grows best in well-drained soil with full sun. Many cultivated varieties (cultivars) with spectacular flowers have been developed by plant breeders.
Three gaillardia flower heads at different stages, Photo by Jan Hygnstrom.