Common Name: Coneflower, Echinacea
Family: Asteraceae (the Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower family)
Common Species (well actually all of them, since there are only nine):
- Narrow-leaf Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) – native to central and eastern North America, commonly used in gardens and medicinals
- Topeka Purple Coneflower (Echinacea atrorubens) – native to Kansas, parts of Oklahoma and Texas
- Smooth Coneflower, Smooth Purple Coneflower (Echinacea laevigata) – endangered, living in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia
- Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) – native to south-central North America, commonly used in gardens and medicinals
- Yellow Coneflower, Bush’s Purple Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa) – native to Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas
- Purple Coneflower, Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – native to central and eastern North America, the most common Echinacea used in gardens and medicinals
- Sanguine purple Coneflower (Echinacea sanguinea) – native to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana
- Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower (Echinacea simulata) – native to Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Tennessee
- Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) – endangered and only found in central Tennessee
Echinacea is probably the most popular herbal medicine plant in the Western world. While not all researchers agree, there are a large number of journal articles that show Echinacea is beneficial when appropriately used. In addition, it attracts butterflies and beneficial insects (including parasitic wasps and bees) and can be used as a drought-tolerant pioneer species. All this wrapped-up in a beautiful, ornamental plant. A fantastic addition to the yard or Forest Garden.
Native and widespread in North America, the Echinacea species has long been used as a medicinal plant by Native Americans, most notably by the Plains Indians. Its use as a medicinal continued into the 19th and 20th centuries. By the 1930’s, Echinacea was a popular herbal medicine in North America and Europe. More recently, in addition to its medicinal use, Echinacea has become a popular garden flower, and it is used to attract butterflies.
- It is said that the Native Americans learned about using Echinacea by observing that sick or wounded elk would eat this plant. It was known as “elk root”.
- The word Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog, in reference to the center cone.
USING THIS PLANT
- Ornamental Plant – this is one of its primary uses around the world
- Medicinal Plant – Echinacea has a long history of being used as a medicine. I will be writing soon about using this topic.
- General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
- Butterfly nectar plant
- Shelter plant for beneficial insects
- Parasitic Wasps prefer to rest and hide on this plant
- Wildlife Food – seed-eating birds will feed on the seeds in the dried cones (a favorite of the American Goldfinch)
- Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
- Drought Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established
- Dynamic Accumulator Species – No documentation on this, but most species have taproots. When the herbacous above-ground portions of this plant dies back each year, it is bound to release the nutrients it has mined with its taproots.
Yield: No reliable information available.
Harvesting: Roots are pulled in Autumn and Winter and are dried for storage. Above ground parts can be harvested at any time.
Storage: Roots are typically dried. Herbacous parts are typically used fresh.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
AHS Heat Zone: 9-1
Chill Requirement: no reliable information is available.
Plant Type: Large Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a few species and a number of varieties available (most cultivars do not grow true to seed)
Pollination: Self-fertile, pollinated by insects
Flowering: Summer to Early Autumn (June-September) depending on your location
No good information available, although many sources state Echinacea will “live for many years” or will “live long for an herbaceous plant.” Echinacea will re-seed, but not in an agressive manner. Scattering and lightly covering the seeds which have dried in the cones (before the birds eat it) is easy to do and will help ensure a good Echinacea patch.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Roots: Fibrous taproot
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Shade: Tolerates minimal to no shade
Moisture: Medium moisture soils preferred. Can tolerate dry conditions.
pH: 6.1-7.0 (prefers fairly neutral soil conditions)
Special Considerations for Growing:
- Echinacea does not like shade.
- Monitor for slug damage when plants are young.
Typically from seed – seed does not require stratification. Can be propagated by root cuttings (in Winter) and division (in Spring or Autumn).
Use caution when using any plant medicinally. “Natural” does not always mean “safe”.
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