“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 [email protected]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.
Where Are They Found
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?
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”
― Iris Murdoch
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 [email protected]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 hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. My most recent post is up already. Next post is April 29th.
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.
All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2014. Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.
43 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Echinacea”
One of my favorites! The voles got some that I planted last year but the good news is that they reseeded and so it looks like I will have plenty of plants. This plant combines so well with a variety of plants I think it is a must have in any sun garden.
I agree Karin a must have in the sun garden. I forgot the voles did get to some of mine but mostly the cultivars which do not self-seed like the species so I am glad for the species!!
I don’t know what to do … my echinacea has the Aster yellows virus and I know I must dig it all out — I have a lot. My problem is what to plant in its place? It is such a perfect cottage garden flower that I just don’t know what plant will help me achieve the same look. Do you have any ideas, Donna?
Oh, dear, I haven’t yet started my cleanup chores (being out of the country for nearly a month) and it’s too cold for me today. Somehow I know it will get done though. P. x
Pam the first question I have is if the whole garden is infected. Get rid of the coneflower that is infected. Watch the areas not infected. Some folks do plant more echinacea in other uninfected areas. But in the infected area here are some native prairie plants that you could use:
Ruellia humilis-wild petunia
Verbena stricta-Hoary verbena
There are some woodland edge native plants if you have some shade and a bit of moisture:
Desmodium canadense-Showy tick trefoil
Obedient plant (in areas where you want it to spread-aggressive)
lobelia where there is more moisture
I hope this helps!!
Thanks, Donna. I have the virus in the echinacea in all my gardens. I didn’t plant it in the new bed by the house sign, so I am going to try a different variety of echinacea there as an experiment. Following your advice, I’m going to try monarda in the main cottage garden having found one that is resistant to powdery-mildew. Otherwise, I think for this year I will just use some annuals such as cleome, until I decide the best perennials. Thanks again for your help. P. x
Sounds like a good plan Pam…it is hard with all the issues we have to deal with. Good luck and keep me posted!!
A lot of good information here, and beautiful photos. I loved the ones with the butterflies, too. I didn’t realize that they self-seeded so easily. Also, I had some new strains of coneflower that did not come back, and like you, I won’t bother purchasing any more of them either.
They are an amazing wildlife flower Sue and they are so pretty which is a perfect plant…I think our climate just isn’t great for those cultivars.
I don’t currently plant echinacea, but you have won me over!
Put me in coach, I’m planting this stuff.
Like Sue, I didn’t realize they self-seeded. Learning every day…right!
Tom I see you are located in NY too. Great to have you visit and comment. And I am glad to see you have become an echinacea lover…be warned, you will want more and more. Isn’t gardening great for those of us who love to learn…stopping over to visit your blog!
I love echinacea too and have bought cultivars over the years but they seem to peter out or revert. I’m trying to keep ‘White Swan’ going in my moon garden. I lost a favourite dwarf variety to aster yellows last year and also let the natives self seed to form large clumps.
Judith I am holding on for my white cultivars too in the white garden. I remember last year when you has aster yellows. Hoping your echinacea are spared more this year.
Thank you for such interesting, informative & helpful article on Coneflowers. I just started gardening last year and I’m concentrating mostly on natives. I will be happily looking forward to more natives gardening articles from you. Happy gardening!
Ana Alen, Zone 5, NH
Ana welcome and I am glad you found the post helpful. I post each month about native plants so there are a few natives I have posted about already (links below). I also have many natives profiled in my archives and I’ve added a few links where you can see the whole year of posts at the bottom of the article. Eventually I will have a page with all the links. Feel free to peruse the posts if you want at your leisure. And Happy Native Gardening!!
This years posts so far:
Ahhh Donna, you truly are a gifted gardener and writer! I have been reading your gardening articles and they are, without a doubt, one of the most comprehensive, informative, interesting and easy to read gardening blogs I’ve come across. Have you thought about putting them into a compact, easy handbook for gardeners? I’m sure with your amazing talent you could be in the best seller’s list in no time! Please do keep on writing, I’m all ears (eyes in this case)!
Ana you have brought me such wonderful praise and I thank you…it does mean a lot. I am contemplating writing a few books, but unsure where I want to start. But I will start soon…then to find a publisher.
But your words have convinced me to keep going toward that dream and goal. I am so pleased you have enjoyed the posts here.
You’ve got the extraordinary talent it takes to make it…Happy Writing!
Wonderful choice Donna! I have some purple that was here and spread it around. Mine grows in pretty moist soil but receives good sun. I also have some white. I have heard that if you plant the cultivars next to one another they will mix up and not be true any longer. I think the white and purple end up being all purple after a few years so I planted some more white far away from the purple. I love to watch the birds eat the seeds!
Great info Kathy. I have my white on the other side of the garden so hopefully it will stay white. My cultivars still are pure but if the species seeds near them, it will be interesting to see. I also love to watch the birds. They strip the seedheads through winter and spring when there is little food.
Donna, Happy Wildflower Wednesday! Those Echinaceas do indeed cross easily. I have planted Tennessee coneflower in the same bed and the offspring has characteristics of both. Still pretty! gail
Gail, it does sound fun to see the flowers once they cross breed. I do love Tennessee coneflower too. I have a few that pop up. Thanks for hosting Wildflower Wednesday!
I love species purple coneflower! I have a couple of other named varieties, but most of the Echinacea in my garden is the species. It’s so easy to grow from seed, and bugs and birds love it.
Wonderful to hear you also love this incredible native flower Alison!!
Donna, this is a great post, I am learning so much more than I anticipated, in the UK Echinacea is grown as a cultivated border plant. I linked into Gails Wild flower Wednesday too and see plants she describes as wildflowers are cultivated over here. I grow Echinacea white swan here and want to try more. I love all the in-depth information you given, its so interesting.
Wow Julie I am so pleased you liked the post. It is funny how plants are exported. I have white swan in my white garden and I must say I adore it.
This is a favorite in my garden too. Sadly most have been eaten by snails and rabbits. I’ve just purchased a few transplants to set out and am hopeful they will make it. They are just the happiest when in bloom and so sturdy!
Oh no Cat…those rascals. I hope they will stay away from your new plants and give them a chance. I agree they are a happy bloom.
I don’t live where Echinaceas are native, it seems a lot of the popular natives are mostly eastern US. But I started growing some again recently, and had some seed-grown blooms last year. I hope they come up again. I also bought a special peach one, a beautiful color, it is definitely coming up. I haven’t had them reseed. That’s interesting about the name and the resemblance to hedgehogs, they also remind me of the spines of Sea Urchins, from the Echinoderms. Cool!
Sadly out of the 10 native species echinacea out there none are native to PNW Hannah. But they do still like the climate there. Yes it does seem that many popular natives are from the eastern half of the country. I love the resemblance to sea urchins!
Definitely a favorite here, too, Donna. It seems to me that every North American garden should have Echinacea. Well, maybe that’s stretching it a bit much, but no matter where I live in the future, this stalwart will have a place. Beautiful photos!
I am with you Beth…if you have a echinacea that is native to your area, plant it!! You will not be disappointed.
I love the comments too. I have the purple only and had never heard of that disease…. Michelle
I learn so much from the comments! I wish I had a picture of Aster yellows but you can look up pictures Michelle just in case as you want to get rid of the plant if infected.
Definitely one of my favorites, Donna. I have hundreds of echinacea blooms in my gardens – all species type. Love them!
I love the pictures of your echinacea Beth….fabulous sight!
Donna I’ve so enjoyed this post and it is so timely, I have bought echinacea plants several times only to have them die, there was a free packet of purple coneflower seeds on a magazine I bought in 2012, last spring I sowed 10 seeds, 7 germinated but when I put them in the garden they didn’t do very well, I’ve been looking for shoots none yet, last autumn I sowed the rest of the packet of seeds and so many germinated, over 40! I have over wintered them outside in one of the plastic box coldframes and a few weeks ago they started growing, but then the tiny new leaves disappeared, after carefully going through them I found 2 slugs, they seem to particularly like echinacea as they didn’t touch any other plants, now most of the 40 are growing and now I know they like free draining sun I know where to plant them and am hoping for a lovely swath of purple coneflowers this summer,
sorry I’ve gone on a bit but I thought you would be interested, Frances
I absolutely loved your comment Frances as it helps me know that the post was helpful….you are not going on at all. I enjoy the conversation and cannot wait to see your echinacea thriving and flowering!!
One of my favourite flowers Donna, and as you say, much more reliable than the admittedly beautiful cultivars. I’ve grown some from seed for my front garden.
Oh I am sure they will look fabulous in your front garden Janet….it seems echinacea is quite the universal favorite flower…well at least on a few continents. Have a great weekend!!
A plant i have many and for the pollinators too. Too bad about the virus, it seems to be increasing which is a shame.
It really is a shame as it is an essential plant in so many gardens. I think people don’t know what it is and it then spreads easily. Oh nature.
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