Get to Know Our Natives: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
Purple Coneflower is a wildly 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 say for the “Plain Jane” Midwestern prairie native Echinacea.
Our native Wisconsin Echinacea is Echinacea pallida, whose common name is 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. Although we don’t grow E. purpurea, we grow many of its “children”. Breeders use E. purpurea extensively to produce options of showy offspring, a varying selection we 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 color butterflies frequently visit them.
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. Echinacea will seed generously if you allow it to set seed, so it is ideal for creating sweeps of color in a natural garden. Read more about Birdscaping with Native Plants.
Cold & Drought Tolerant
Being native to our Midwestern prairie environment, Echinacea is ideal for growing in our climate and 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.