Get to Know Our Natives: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
Purple Coneflower is a wildly (pun intended) popular perennial flower in many Wisconsin gardens. In recent years there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of new hybridized selections of Echinacea introduced into the nursery marketplace. While many of these offer exciting new colors and forms there is also much to be said for the “Plain Jane” Midwestern prairie native Echinacea.
Our native Wisconsin Echinacea is Echinacea pallida, commonly known as the Pale Purple Coneflower. It has very slender, pendant pale purple/pink petals that dance beneath the bristly bronze central cone. The appearance of these flowers is truly reminiscent of a ballet or hula dancer! Its leaves are narrow and toothless with distinct parallel venation and it grows to a height of 24”-36”. The other commonly seen species is Echinacea Purpurea, the Eastern Purple Coneflower, whose native range may have reached into Southern Wisconsin. While we do not grow E. purpurea at Johnson’s, we do grow many of its “children”. E. purpurea that has been used extensively in breeding to produce many showy offspring, a varying selection of which we grow and offer each year.
Echinacea’s merits include:
Length of bloom
Echinacea usually begins blooming in early to mid-summer and continues through early autumn. Deadheading will extend the bloom period but many gardeners leave the seedheads intact as a food source for birds.
Echinacea is a favorite pollen and nectar source for our native beneficial insects and is frequently visited by colorful butterflies
Birds, in particular Goldfinches, love the seeds of Echinacea. Leave the seedheads standing to provide winter food for the birds and to allow for self-seeding. If allowed to set seed, Echinacea will seed generously so is ideal for creating sweeps of color in the naturalized garden.
Cold & Drought Tolerant
Being native to our Midwestern prairie environment, Echinacea is ideally suited to growing in our climate and in our soils.
The botanical name Echinacea comes from the Greek word for Hedgehog (“Echinos”) because its spiny central cone was thought to resemble that animal.
Echinacea has been used medicinally for centuries to treat a wide range of ailments. Contemporary research has shown that all parts of the plant boost the human immune system and reduce symptoms of cold, flu and other illnesses. Today Echinacea is the #1 selling plant among herbal remedies.