Coneflower Echinacea Plants

Get the scoop on coneflowers, and learn why these spiny-centered beauties belong in your garden.

Purple Coneflower

Purple Coneflower

Purple coneflower ‘Magus’ has purple-pink to rosy purple flowers that develop like a cone that fall back as they age.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

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Wondering if you should grow coneflower plants? Unless you’re dealing with a full-shade garden, the answer is yes. Coneflower, which belongs in the plant genus Echinacea, is a beautiful perennial bloomer with an easy-growing personality. Echinacea plants are native wildflowers in North America, which means they’re already adapted to the growing conditions.

Coneflowers earn their name—and the genus name Echinacea—thanks to the spiky center of the blooms. In Greek, the word “echinos” means hedgehog, which explains the genus name Echinacea. The bronze-tinted globe looks prickly to the touch, but is soft enough to touch with bare hands. It offers firm resistance, but not a thorny feel.

In the plant world, coneflowers are cousins to many bloomers with a daisy-like flower. The family tree includes sunflower, Shasta daisy, New England aster, chrysanthemum and zinnia—as well as many other flowers. European explorers encountered coneflowers in the Southeastern United States. Echinacea plants first appear in botanical history in 1699, when a British naturalist sent samples to England.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is probably the most commonly known species. Its native range extends far and wide, from Maine to Florida and west to Wisconsin, Colorado and Texas. Other species include Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis), which has the same pink-purple petal hues as purple coneflower, although its petals swoop toward the cone instead of away from it. Yellow coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa) hails from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It resembles a black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia), which is a botanical cousin to coneflowers.

Coneflowers boast a host of desirable characteristics that earn them a place in any garden. The plants are consistently winter hardy throughout the country, standing up to harsh Minnesota winters, as well as mild Florida ones. Echinacea plants are drought-tolerant once established, making them well-suited to today’s water-conscious plantings. They make a great choice for rain gardens, adapting easily to the wet-dry soil cycles that typify these plantings.

Include coneflower plants in any wildlife or butterfly garden design. In bloom, the blossoms beckon a host of pollinators, including native bees, honey bees, bumblebees and butterflies, along with beneficial insects. After flowers fade and seeds mature, coneflowers attract goldfinches that cling to flower stems as they eat seeds.

Coneflower plants typically self-sow if you allow a few mature seedheads to linger through winter. In ideal conditions, Echinacea plants can almost be invasive in a garden bed. At the very least, you’ll have plenty of young plants to share, as well as spread throughout your garden.

Count on clumps of coneflower plants to fill summer garden scenes with steady color—and to grace indoor rooms with fresh cut flowers. Echinacea make terrific additions to garden-gathered bouquets. The flowers also dry well for use in dried floral arrangements.

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