Gardener's Dirt: Purple Coneflower - A Heat-Loving Perennial
By Carmen Price - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
June 23, 2011 at 1:23 a.m.
Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, a popular prairie wildflower, is at home in Texas gardens. The name Echinacea is derived from the Greek word "echinos," meaning sea urchin or hedgehog in reference to its sharp spiny projections on the cone-shaped seed heads.
BLOOMS ALL SUMMER LONG
Purple coneflower, a.k.a. hedgehog, is a workhorse in the garden, growing well north of our area in zones 3-8. Some varieties do well even in our humid summers of zone 9 and also in zone 10. Purple coneflowers bloom all summer long and the flowers are traditionally purple. The multi-stemmed plants are bushy and have upright growth. Large flower stalks lift the coneflowers well above the plant base. Most echinacea plants will grow about 2- to 4-feet tall and about 2-feet wide.
SEEDS ATTRACT BIRDS
Sometimes staking is needed to keep the tall echinacea stalks from breaking in windy areas. Deadheading coneflowers through the summer will keep blooms coming for weeks on end. Self-sown seedlings may appear, but not in uncontrollable numbers. Leaving the seed heads at the end of the season provides seeds that are highly attractive to native songbirds, such as goldfinches. Seeds from the coneflower are used in several kinds of bird feed.
NECTAR ATTRACTS BUTTERFLIES
This popular plant is a magnet for several beautiful butterflies that are attracted to the pollen in the daisy-like flowers. The abundant flowers are full of sweet nectar that our fluttering friends just can't resist. You may see butterflies, such as painted ladies, swallowtails, fritillaries and monarchs, airborne trying to locate a coneflower to settle on to sip the sweet sap.
GROWN FROM SEEDS OR PLANTS
Coneflowers can be grown from seeds outdoors or purchased as started plants. Not all echinacea hybrids grow true from seed, so many of the newer cultivars should be purchased as live plants. Purple coneflower seeds can also be harvested and kept in a container with a tight lid. A cool, dry place, like your refrigerator, is best to store the seeds until needed for next year's planting. Be sure to add silica gel to prevent moisture from creeping into the container.
HYBRIDS BRED FROM NATIVES
North American hybrid coneflowers are bred from the native coneflower species, such as purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), pink coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis), among others.
As stated before, coneflowers are winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4-9; however, based on the history of the hybrid, small differences in hybrid recommendations for each USDA zone range can occur. Read plant labels or literature to determine specific limits to winter or other weather conditions, such as summer heat or humidity, in the overall hardiness of hybrids.
In addition to being a great perennial, Echinacea purpurea has a long history of medicinal uses. Native Americans used it as an antidote for snake bites and other poisonous bites and stings. It was also used in a smoke treatment for headaches. Also, purple coneflower was used to calm toothaches and sore gums, and in a tea form, it was drunk to treat colds, mumps and arthritis.
DAISIES IN A HURRY
Overall, the purple coneflower plant is great in the landscape, a great nectar source for butterflies and provides seed for birds. They are a fabulous perennial because you only have to plant the plant once, as they come back over and over. Seeds can be harvested or left on the plant to dry to feed nature's creatures. Daisies in a hurry bloom from summer through fall as long as the plant is deadheaded often. We all know that it can "get hotter than a stolen tamale" in South Texas, and that's perfect weather for the purple coneflower.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.