(Not Just Purple) Coneflowers
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Sometimes our most finicky and high maintenance plants are those that have adapted to growing conditions here in the South, yet originated, as folks used to say, somewheres else. The purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, is one of our native plants that doesn’t require constant attention. It is a southern favorite and thanks to its many cultivars, comes in a variety of colors. Not just purple.
Species of Echinacea are native to eastern and central regions of the United States. They were important to Native Americans for medicinal use. The entire plant and roots were also used in folk medicine and by practitioners. Today Echinacea is used to help reduce the duration and symptoms of cold and flu. It is also used to help boost the immune system and help the body fight infections.
Coneflowers are herbaceous perennials and members of the Asteraceae (daisy) family. The name Echinacea derives from the Greek word Echinos meaning hedgehog or sea urchin because of the prickly cone located in the center. Daisy-like rays or petals spread outward from the center, and can droop slightly. The plants have an upright habit with a coarse texture and can grow up to 4 feet tall depending on the species. Bloom time is anywhere from early summer to mid-autumn. Propagation can be made from division in spring or fall or from seed sown in spring and summer. Plant in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil with good air circulation. They are drought tolerant once established and are slightly deer resistant. Japanese beetles are an occasional problem as well as powdery mildew and leaf spot.
Of the eight or nine species of coneflower, Echinacea purpurea is the most readily available. Its cultivars exhibit colors described as rose-pink, crimson-rose, white, rosy red and rose purple. Hybrids of these cultivars have been developed between species to create different series of plants with flowers in yellow, peach (Summer Sky), a pink double-flowered variety, and one with orange flowers called Tiki Torch. Doesn’t that sound like a party about to happen? PowWow Wild Berry is a rosy pink and also comes in white. The E. purpurea cultivar called Cheyenne Spirit has a mix of colors in gold, orange, red, cream, purple and yellow on one plant. Tomato Soup has brilliant red flowers. The possibilities seem endless. Coneflowers are best planted in fall, so you have time to visit your favorite garden center to see them in bloom and choose your favorite. Check out the photographs of these varieties and more at the extension toolbox or visit the Clemson Factsheet for more information.
The sturdiness of coneflowers makes them a good choice for the back of perennial borders. They do well in mass plantings, in meadows and in naturalized areas. They attract pollinators, especially butterflies and bees and songbirds, particularly goldfinches, love to eat their seed. This is one plant that you will be glad you have in the landscape, and with all the new varieties available, it doesn’t just have to be purple anymore.
Gail Griffin is an Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer with N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center.