The Echinacea: it’s not always purple

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 colours to choose from. These days, we could simply call them all cone flowers. Here’s more about this perennial that’s such a favourite in our gardens.

Echinacea 'Magnus', 'Harvest Moon' and 'White Swan' Echinacea 'Magnus', 'Harvest Moon' and 'White Swan' Echinacea 'Magnus', 'Harvest Moon' and 'White Swan'

A perennial favourite

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 colour 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 colourful insect-attracting perennial has been a gardener’s favourite for centuries.

 Colours ‘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 60 to 100 centimetres. The centre – 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 colours such as white, green, yellow, orange, pink and just about every colour in between – colours pretty enough to eat!

Echinacea

  • ‘Delicious Candy’ (pink double-flowering variety)
  • ‘Elton Knight’ (pink)
  • ‘Fatal Attraction’ (pink with dark stems)
  • ‘Green Jewel’ (green)
  • ‘Leilani’ (yellow)
  • ‘Magnus’ (pink horizontal petals)
  • ‘Meditation White’ (white)
  • ‘Rubinstern’ (pink)
  • ‘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 autumn. 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 and roots should not become too overshadowed by their neighbours.

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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