Both people and pollinators love this pretty North American native. With colorful blooms from summer to fall, purple coneflowers shine in a variety of settings. This plant has seen a resurgence in popularity, which has led to more varieties to choose from. There’s a coneflower for every garden, including bright single flowers and double blossoms.
The big blooms of coneflowers are usually made up of a brownish-orange central "cone" and a ring of long, slender petals radiating out from it. The petals have a pinkish purple hue, but an array of new varieties offer more flower shapes such as doubles, and colors from orange and yellow to red and deep pink so there's a coneflower for every garden.
Coneflower Care Must-Knows
If you aren't familiar with coneflower in a garden setting, you may be familiar with it as a natural cold remedy. Purple coneflower has long been sought after for its cold-fighting properties, especially in teas. All parts of the plant are purported to have immune-boosting effects.
Because purple coneflower is native to grass prairies, it prefers well-drained soil and tolerates drought well. They won't tolerate anything less than full sun; if planted in too much shade, purple coneflowers tend to get leggy and flop. Plus, plants are more susceptible to foliar diseases, such as powdery mildew, when planted in the shade.
Once plants have finished blooming, remove spent blooms to help encourage a second round of blooms. As fall sets in, leave a few flower heads on the plant; the seeds provide food for many small birds. Goldfinches especially seem fond of sitting atop spent blossoms and picking away at the tasty seeds. If left on the plant, coneflowers may reseed themselves around your garden. But remember any seedlings will be different from the parent, especially with the fancier varieties.
One problem with coneflower and other plants in the aster family is that it is susceptible to aster yellows, a plant virus carried by thrips. These pesky little bugs feed on pollen, as well as plant juices, by scraping the plant tissue and drinking the sap. As these bugs fly around and feed, they transmit the virus from plant to plant. Symptoms will be visible on new buds and open flowers that will show erratic, contorted growth. If you see this on your plant, there is no cure except to dig up the plant and properly dispose of it before the disease is transmitted to any other plants.
New Types of Coneflowers
There have been many new and exciting innovations in the world of purple coneflower. Breeders in the late '90s and early 2000s began crossing the yellow species, Echinacea paradoxa, with the common purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. This opened up new possibilities and created new colors. Some of the most recent innovations include shorter, more durable plants, especially ones that can easily and uniformly be grown from seed. And the coneflower boom doesn't seem to be slowing down. Scientists have begun developing crosses between coneflowers and black-eyed Susans to create a new cross called Echibeckia.