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~ The Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea ~

Hardy in zones 3-8 and a native of North America, Echinacea purpurea, the Purple Coneflower, is the Great Canadian Perennial. The flowers attract butterflies and bees, while the seed heads are devoured by American goldfinches. They form large mats that are very showy in the garden, where their purplish color contrasts nicely with the yellow, orange and cool pinks of daylilies.

The foliage is not particularly attractive, but the height of the plant (1 m) means that it's best suited for the back of a natural border where the leaves will be concealed. Dwarf varieties exist as well, such that it is possible to create a border with short, medium and tall varieties.

Once established, the plants are tolerant of dry, gravelly or generally poor soil, but they do require full sun. Given good soil, they will become quite exuberant.

Like many native plant species, E. purpurea will readily self-seed in the garden, and will generally flower the second year. Seed collectors note that seeds can be removed from the spiky seed heads by soaking in water. Flower arrangers dry the urchin-like seed heads and use them with everlastings. The dead heads can be removed to stimulate flowering, or left intact to attract goldfinches.

Some people believe that Echinacea has medicinal properties. Claims that extracts can reduce the duration or severity of the common cold have been largely dispelled by rigorous scientific investigation. This is not to say that Echinacea does not have pharmacologically active substances; one should exercize caution with such herbal supplements until their active ingredients are isolated and their effects investigated.

Below is a list of classic and new horticultural varieties of Purple Coneflower.


A seed strain producing plants with creamy white petals, with golden-green central disks, also sold under the name 'White Swan.' Not as vigorous as the pink-flowered forms, it grows to a height of 45-55 cm.

Art's Pride
Merely another name for 'Orange Meadowbrite.'

Crimson Star
Rays of horizontal, colorfast magenta-purple petals. This new introduction has the deepest color.

Also referred to as 'Indiaca.' Topping the bristly cone is a messy tuft of extra petals, giving the flower the look of a Hawaiian dancing doll.

Kim's Knee High
This is a dwarf form, reaching only 40 cm in height and suitable for the front of the border, perhaps in front of taller coneflower varieties.

Little Giant
A dwarf variety like 'Kim's Knee High,' with fragrant, darker ruffled flowers, and, at 30 cm, on a even shorter plant. Forms a neat, compact clump.

Notable for huge (15-18 cm across), rose-lavender petals held horizontally from the flowers, atop a strong stem reaching 1 m, a great visual impact in the garden. 'Magnus,' a seed strain, was named the 1998 Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year. Very vigorous, increases quickly and drought-tolerant.

Orange Meadowbrite
The trademark name for 'Art's Pride.' Fragrant blooms tinted with orange colour, this new introduction is already in great demand. Orange Meadowbrite is propagated in vitro; it is not available from seed.

Mango Meadowbrite
Click on the photograph of 'Mango Meadowbrite' to enlarge. Mango Meadowbrite is propagated in vitro; it is not available from seed.

Prairie Frost
A small-flowered variety with variegated foliage. The irregular white margin gives the leaves a shrunken, somewhat unhealthy appearance; consider carefully before adding to the garden.

'Razzmatazz' is a double-flowered cultivar, where some architectural floral elements are replaced by petals. It is a bit top-heavy and may suffer wind damage if left unstaked. Very novel.

Ruby Giant
Reddish-lavender flowers with flat cones are as large as 'Magnus,' on slightly shorter plants plants.

White Swan
Merely another name for 'Alba.'

Echinacea Links

Hortico has added 'Art's Pride' and 'Razzmatazz' to their 2005 catalogue. Early ordering is recommended.

The Guru Garden features 'Doppelganger,' 'Fragrant Angel,' 'Hope,' 'Prairire Frost,' 'Sparkler,' 'Mango Meadowbrite,' 'Art's Pride,' 'Big Sky Sunset,' 'Rocky Top,' Vintage Wine,' 'Jade' and 'Big Sky Sunrise.'

Many cultivars are available from Canning Perennials. They ship in the spring only.

Trillium Gardens is another supplier of fine Echinacea, from Ontario.

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