“He said that we belonged together because he was born with a flower and I was born with a butterfly and that flowers and butterflies need each other for survival.”
― Gemma Malley, The Declaration
As the garden continues to awaken, and I finish my clean up chores, I am discovering so many lovely flowers sending up new shoots of life through the soil welcoming in a new growing season. And some of the first perennials are my native wildflowers. One of the most beautiful that will appear in summer is my beloved Echinacea. I know, I know I am skipping spring wildflowers, but next month I will have a wonderful spring ephemeral.
So back to summer for now and Echinacea….specifically Echinacea purpurea or Purple coneflower. The first Echinacea I planted was this species Echinacea, but I soon became smitten with all the cultivars…and I mean all. I bought all colors, sizes and petal shapes. But I found the most reliable bloomers were the species flowers. So while I do have cultivars, I do not replace the cultivars when they don’t show up the following season.
Sometimes called Eastern purple coneflower, Purple coneflower is part of the Aster Family (Asteraceae). The name comes from the Greek, echino, meaning hedgehog. Doesn’t the center disk of the flower remind you of a hedgehog rolled up. The common name, coneflower, comes from the fact that the flower heads are cone-shaped.
My species Echinacea can grow from 2-5 ft. (5 ft tall in my meadow) with smooth stems sporting lavender , purple or sometimes pink daisy-like flowers that are long-lasting (blooming into autumn). I love how the petals emerge as spiky rays surrounding the domed brown-orange, spiky center. And as the flowers grow, the petals reach out and droop.
I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme as I profile this wonderful native plant.
And I am also joining forces with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to purchase plants for my garden, like the one I am profiling in this post. The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials.
Echinacea is a sun lover and will grow in also grow in part sun. it likes somewhat dry conditions although the species Echinacea will tolerate a bit more moisture as long as the soil is well draining and it has ample sun. It does not like to be in standing water. Although they prefer sandy richer soils, the species Echinacea does seem to grow in my drier and even moist clay areas.
This flower is easy to grow, and those growing in my meadow were started from seed scattered one fall allowing it to freeze. You actually just scatter and walk on the seed to tramp it down as they need light to germinate. It is important to keep the area weed free, but do not use herbicide as it is not good for the critters or the Echinacea. Given the right conditions, echinacea can be aggressive because it reseeds readily. I love to let my Echinacea pop up wherever it wants.
You can collect the seed in the fall by breaking open the seedheads, but be quick as the birds will be after it too. One of these years I am going to collect seeds from certain flowers in my garden, and grow my own flowers from seed.
You can also make root divisions in early spring but that will decrease the flowers on the parent plant in spring.
Echinacea has very few problems, but one that is deadly is Aster yellows virus. The flowers grow and mutate and are strange-looking. As soon as you see them, rip out the plant and throw it away. Do not compost it. And do not plant Echinacea in the area where the virus was. If you do not stop the spread when it occurs, it will wipe out your Echinacea in no time not to mention other flowers in the Aster family and some crops like carrots.
Benefits to Wildlife
Echinacea attracts many beneficial insects including bumble bees, long-horn beetles and soldier beetles. Many butterflies frequent the flower for nectar in the cone center. I have seen monarchs, swallowtails and red admirals nectaring at my echinacea.
And birds will eat the seeds in autumn and winter especially finches although I have seen finches in summer and late summer trying to get at them. So leave those seedheads up.
Even hummingbirds love to drink this plant’s nectar.
Slugs and Japanese beetles will do damage to the plant as will deer who will graze on the new growth in spring although I see them browsing more on the cultivars than the species.
Purple coneflower is native to eastern North America including the southeastern and midwest United States, and southeastern Canada. Look for them in their native habitats like rocky areas and open woods, moist prairies and meadows.
The entire plant is useful but the most medicinal part is the root. A pleasant tea can be made out of the leaves to strengthen the immune system as Echinacea has been shown to be a somewhat effective mild antibiotic in studies when used in small doses taken daily. Some studies show it loses its potency if taken for too long so it is best to use it on and off every couple of weeks especially during cold and flu season.
One study even showed E. purpurea has antidepressant properties.
If you are allergic to other plants in the aster family, like ragweed, then use caution if you take Echinacea. And always make sure you consult an expert in herbal medicine before using any herbs.
Folklore and Tales
Native Americans used Echinacea for many illnesses and ailments: poultice applied to wounds, bites, stings, snakebite; to treat teeth problems and sore gums; and for treatment of colds, coughs, smallpox, measles, mumps and arthritis.
Although it was used quite a bit by settlers it remained a folk remedy.
It was thought that carrying Echinacea would provide inner strength during trying times.
If it is grown around the house or brought into a house it brings prosperity into the home.
Do you plant Echinacea? Do you have a favorite cultivar or species Echinacea that you love?
Next up on the blog: Monday will be time for an interesting and special introspective post. Then as May rolls around it will be time to recap what has been happening in the April garden.
I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Tuesday.
I can also be found blogging once a month at Vision and Verb. I will be posting again on April 30th.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.
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