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Echinacea is a Native American genus that has won its way into gardens around the world. The Cheyenne called it "mohk ta" and used it for sore mouth and gums. The Crow called it "Like Comb" and used it for colds, toothache and colic. Today most Americans know it as Purple Coneflower.
Echinacea has also become a household word because of its medicinal qualities. The pollen and seeds are also extremely beneficial for bees as a pollen source and birds for food from the seeds.
Echinacea prefer full sun, average to lean soil and regular water for the first year. They are quite drought tolerant once established. These beauties to bloom in June through September. You can deadhead the first bloom for a smaller second bloom.
Classically, Echinacea come in pale pink (E. angustifolia with wide petals, E. pallada with elegant drooping petals), dark pink (E. purpurea) and the lesser known yellow (E. paradoxa). In addition, E. purpurea 'White Swan' is an older cultivar with white petals. Many of these species have varied growing habits. E. palladia, E. paradoxa, and E. tennisensis can have a relaxed sweeping habit whereas E. purpurea is more upright.
The roots, leaves, flowers and seeds of E. angustifolia, E. pallada and E. purpurea are most commonly used in the herbal trade for their immune supporting qualities. Generally roots can be harvested when they are 2-3 years old.
Within the last few decades breeders have started hybridizing Echinacea into a wonderful array of colors, sizes and fragrances. Now you can find coneflowers in shades of orange ('Mango Meadowbright' and 'Harvest Moon'), reddish pink ('Twilight') and yellow ('Big Sky Sunrise').
The breeders continue to bring us more petal and cone colors ('Green Envy' and 'Jade' have green central cones), sturdier growth habits and fragrance ('Fragrant Angel' has white petals and a honey like fragrance). We continue to see improvements with the classic dark pink. 'Kim's Knee High' and 'Pixie Meadowbright' are dwarf cultivars (approx 18-24"), 'Ruby Star' is a carmine pink, and 'Razzmataz' has a pink fluffy center.
Whether you choose a fancy cultivar or one of the good old fashioned ones, Echinacea is sure to bring you gardening joy. They are great cut flowers and the seed heads are gorgeous in the fall and winter when kissed by the frost. They are fun to combine with ornamental grasses, sedums and Rudbeckia. You can even eat the new leaves in salads to give it a zing that will truly make you tongue tingle.
Here are a few varieties that are more readily available at Portland Nursery. Some of the newer cultivars such as ‘Green Envy’ and ‘Tikki Torch’ may be hard to come by for a year or two. Click on the photos for larger views.
Echinacea x 'Sunrise' has bright yellow blooms that are the same color as Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'. Its button-shaped central cone starts out green and matures to gold. The striking blooms have a light sweet fragrance and make excellent cut flowers for fresh and dried arrangements. A prolific bloomer and drought resistant, it naturalizes well in the sun and is deer resistant.
Echinacea pallida - Delicate long pale pink petals hang down to give an elegant look. Plants grow 24-36” tall and 12-24” wide. Plant in large groups for a dramatic display.
Echinacea paradoxa - Yellow ray petals around a brown cone-shaped seed head. Very drought tolerant. This native of central Missouri resembles a Pale Purple Coneflower with its long lanky stems draped in gold! At home in well drained clay, loam or sandy loam, its flowers grow three to five feet tall.
Photo credits: Monrovia
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Genus: Echinacea (ek i nā sha)
Common Name: Purple coneflower, coneflower, Hedgehog, Kansas Snakeroot, Scurvy root
Origin: 9 species native to North American prairies
Characteristics: Echinaceas vary in height from 18-60” tall and 12-40" in width. Hardy in zones 3-10. Flowering July - September.
Culture: Full sun (at least 5 hours of direct sun), fertile to lean soil (avoid high fertility which can lead to leggy plants), minimal to average water. Drought tolerant once established. Easy to grow! E. angustifolia prefers alkaline soil, so add lime when planting.
Pests & Diseases: Virtually pest and disease free! E. angustifolia is a bit more finicky due to pH needs and slightly prone to rot. E. paradoxa is also slightly prone to rot in poorly drained soils.
Maintenance: A very low maintenance genus. Deadhead first bloom to encourage a second bloom and keep a fresh look. You can also prune Echinacea in half in early June to delay bloom time or reduce plant height.
Cut stems to the ground in late fall or early spring for annual clean up. Staking may be needed for relaxed species.
Propagation: Divide in late fall or early spring.