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The Echinacea: it’s not always purple

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by Ineke van Kesteren • Friday July 8, 2016

The common name for the Echinacea is the Purple coneflower: a good description of its domed centre surrounded by purplish-red petals. What many people don’t know, however, is that this name is somewhat misleading. Although the flowers of the original species are purplish-red, we now have many other colors to choose from. These days, we could simply call them all cone flowers. Here’s more about this perennial that’s such a favorite in our gardens.

A perennial favorite
This good old perennial has been gracing our borders and attracting bees and butterflies for ages. The Echinacea produces large flowers with somewhat pendulous petals radiating from a domed brownish-orange centre. It adds color to borders and planters from July into September. Every Echinacea flower lasts for weeks, meanwhile attracting many bees, bumblebees and butterflies to the garden with its honey-like fragrance. No wonder, then, that such a colorful insect-attracting perennial has been a gardener’s favorite for centuries.

Colors ‘pretty enough to eat’
The Echinacea has its roots in the North American prairie. One of these species - Echinacea purpurea - is an ancestor of today’s lovely newcomers. It produces a large pink flower on a sturdy stem attaining a height from 24 to 40 inches. The center - the cone - is brownish-orange and remains standing on its stem until deep into the winter. Patient plant breeding efforts have yielded cone flowers in more and more colors such as white, green, yellow, orange, pink and just about every color in between - colors pretty enough to eat! 

  • Echinacea ‘Augustkönigin’ (pink)
  • Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’ (pink with dark stems)
  • Echinacea ‘Hot Summer’ (orange-red)
  • Echinacea ‘Kim’s Knee High’ (pink with compact habit)
  • Echinacea ‘Magnus’ (pink horizontal petals)
  • Echinacea ‘Sundown’ (orange graduating to pink)
  • Echinacea ‘Harvest Moon’ (pastel yellow)
  • Echinacea ‘Pink Double Delight’ (pink double-flowering variety)
  • Echinacea ‘White Swan’ (white)


Adding them to your garden
If you want to add the Echinacea to your garden, you can plant them anytime from spring through fall. This is a vigorous perennial that can remain undisturbed for years on end. Choose a sunny location with typical well-drained garden soil. Also leave enough space between this plant and others; their leaves should not become too overshadowed by their neighbors.

Nice combinations
The flat daisy-like flowers of Echinacea combine beautifully with the flower spikes of such plants as the Blazing star (Liatris spicata), Woodland sage (Salvia nemorosa) or Spiked speedwell (Veronica spicata). They will also make a lovely complement to the rounded inflorescences of Phlox, the delicately incised inflorescences of Goldenrod (Solidago) and the Golden tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’).



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