How to Grow Coneflowers (Echinacea Purpurea)
Coneflowers are Perennial
Coneflowers are herbaceous perennials that are a part of the daisy family. Similar in appearance to daisies, they are native to the eastern and central portions of North America.
They are most commonly found growing wild in prairies and open woodland areas. They can also be found growing in roadside ditches and abandoned sites.
Once established, coneflowers are very tolerant of dry and hot conditions, but can also do well in moist, well draining soils.
Because it is a native of North America, the coneflower has a long history of medicinal use by the Native Americans.
It has been said that the medical uses varied from treating snakebites, anthrax and general pain relief. Because of its antimicrobial properties, it was most commonly used to treat sore throats, coughs, headaches and as an analgesic; all the symptoms commonly associated with the common cold.
In 1930, a Swiss herbalist recognized the plant and the way the Native Americans historically used the plant to create a concoction to treat the common cold. The rest of the story, as they say, is history!
Do you use Echinacea for cold relief?
Broken down into scientific terms, there are many active compounds that give Echinacea it's cold symptom and immune support abilities. These compounds are called Phenols. A portion of these phenols stimulate the immune system, while others act as antimicrobials. These compounds work together to help soothe cold symptoms while shortening the duration of the cold.
Most people use Echinacea for colds. Others use it to help boost their immune system to prevent illness.
Potential Side Effects
There are no known side effects when taken orally. There have been rare allergic reactions cases and there are no case reports of any drug interactions. I would check with your doctor before self-medicating, especially if you are pregnant or lactating. If you have outdoor allergies, you might want to start with small doses to check for a reaction.
The parts of the plant most commonly used are the flower heads either fresh or dried, taken in a tea.
How to Grow Coneflowers from Seed
Coneflowers are extremely easy flowers to grow. The best time to start seed is in late summer. Direct sow the seeds 1/2 inch apart and cover lightly. Water well. The seedlings need the late summer through fall to establish a root system. The big show comes the following summer, where it blooms early summer through early fall. While they can take some shade, they perform their best in a full sun location. Some varieties can grow up to 4 feet tall.
Coneflowers will self-sow if the seed heads are left on. This usually isn't a problem for most people. I like to leave some of the seeds heads on for the birds. Goldfinches especially love eating the seeds.
Saving seeds is very easy. Just wait for the entire seed head to dry thoroughly, then rub off the seeds from the head with your thumb. Store in a dry, airtight container at room temperature.
Coneflowers can also be propagated via divisions every couple of years.
What's In A Name?
Echinacea gets its name from the Greek word, Echino, meaning Sea Urchin. The flower's central eye is spiny and resembles the spines of a Sea Urchin.
Species of Coneflower
There are 9 different species of coneflower:
- Echinacea Angustifolia – Narrow-leaf Coneflower
- Echinacea Atrorubens – Topeka Purple Coneflower
- Echinacea Laevigata – Smooth Coneflower, Smooth Purple Coneflower
- Echinacea Pallida – Pale Purple Coneflower
- Echinacea Paradoxa – Yellow Coneflower, Bush's Purple Coneflower
- Echinacea Purpurea – Purple Coneflower, Eastern Purple Coneflower
- Echinacea Sanguinea – Sanguine purple Coneflower
- Echinacea Simulata – Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower
- Echinacea Tennesseensis – Tennessee Coneflower
Echinacea Purpurea is the most common type for ornamental use. Echinacea Angustifolia is the type best used for herbal remedies.
The Tennessee coneflower is considered endangered in its native habitat, which is central Tennessee. With help from on-going conservation efforts, the Tennessee coneflower has made a great comeback and their endangered status is now up for review to be taken off of that list.
Ornamental Applications for Coneflowers
Because they grow tall and rarely need staking, they are best if used in the back of the border. Grown en masse, they provide a strikingly beautiful display in your garden.
Some other uses:
- Native Prairie Gardens
- Butterfly/Bee Gardens
- Victorian Cottage Gardens
- Woodland Gardens
Coneflowers grow best with....
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to grouping plants, but I find these plants look great planted with Coneflowers:
- Black Eyed Susans
- Hollyhock or Mallows
There are many coneflower varieties on the market today. Primarily breed from the Echinacea Purpurea species, coneflowers come in these colors:
- Purple (common)
- New hybrids Green or Green with Purple
Choosing the Right Variety
If you are like me, choosing is hard! I try to choose based primarily on the other colors I have growing in the area of where I want to add a new plant. The second consideration is the height and spread of the plant. Once those two items are decided, I look for the best plant available. For instant gratification, you can purchase most varieties of coneflower from your local garden center. Others you may need to purchase seeds or starts via the internet.
Coneflowers are prolific growers, so if you are stuck starting from seed, you will be pleased the following summer when it blooms!
© 2014 Lisa Roppolo