Tuesday, July 15, 2008

GB Bloom Day: The Common Coneflower Takes Center Stage

A convocation
Of coneflowers thrust skyward
Calling bees to feast

With all the rain we have had recently, there are blooms “busting out all over” here in the Heartland. The star of the show this time of year, though, is the purple coneflower, and I wanted to give her center stage today.

When I started my first small perennial flowerbed 6 or 7 years ago, the one flower I knew I wanted to plant was the purple coneflower. I had seen them in gardens all around the area and thought they were “pretty.” In my near-total state of ignorance about flower gardening, I didn’t realize what an excellent choice I had made. I didn’t know that they were native to this area and that they attracted bees and butterflies.

The coneflowers have never failed me, and I’ve grown to love them more each year. They are definitely my favorite perennial.

In the past month Gail at Clay and Limestone has written a few posts about the purple coneflower. In an early one she identified a native species called Echinacea Tennesseensis. This intrigued me; if Tennessee has its own coneflower, then surely Illinois has its own, too! I did a little research and found that, sadly, Illinois does not have a species named after it, so the Tennesseans have their own claim to fame. But I did find some other interesting information about the plant in Illinois.

I found a very informative website about the Illinois prairie written by a botanist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, which is located near me. The Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois,” written by Ken Robertson, is an excellent resource for information about the prairie habitat, including indigenous plants. He identifies two major species of the coneflower native to Illinois: Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida. The purpurea is the common coneflower that most of us grow. According to Robertson, it is not a prairie plant, but rather is “found mostly in savannas and along the edges of woods.” The pallida, or “pale coneflower,” is a native found mainly in southern Illinois. The photos he included of the pallida look somewhat like this one in my garden, although this one is actually just a young Echinacea purpurea. Check out his site for photos of the real thing.

Little of the original prairie still exists in Illinois. Because of the rich soil in our area, the “Grand Prairie,” most of the soil has been converted to agricultural uses. However, there are still a few remnants of original prairie left, and Robertson includes sites where one can see the original landscape of this area. Not surprisingly, many of them are located in cemeteries. He also lists sites that have developed Prairie Restoration projects, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, Morton Arboretum, and Meadowbrook Park, a popular park not far from where I live. I had hoped to visit one of the cemeteries to get a photo for this post, but time and gas prices kept me from going.

My great-great-grandparents settled in this area in the 1870’s, buying land (for $2 an acre!) that had never been tilled. I wonder if they saw any seas of coneflowers when they arrived.

Besides its lovely, long-lasting blooms, the Echinacea is drought-resistant, will grow in many different soil types, and has few disease or insect problems. What is there not to like about this plant?!

The center globes attract butterflies . . .

...and bees are drawn to them as well.

In the winter the seed cones attract birds in search of food. ( This does bring up a question: what do you do when the flower has stopped blooming and the stems begin to dry up? I have left mine to stand all winter, but for aesthetic purposes, I wish I could break them off as soon as they have dried up. I would love to hear your comments on this.) And, of course, they do self-seed sometimes. I showed a photo of all my echinacea seedlings in a post earlier this spring; I must have had a couple dozen little babies. I transplanted some, pulled others, and left a few to fend for themselves. They're pretty tough plants.

There are many new varieties of the coneflower, including those in the “Big Sky” series, and I do hope to plant a few of those soon. But they are definitely pricier than the common Echinacea purpurea, and have not proven to be as hardy.

Anthony Kahtz, author of Perennials for Midwestern Gardens, suggests planting coneflowers with companions like Russian sage, liatris, or daylilies. I have Russian sage near one stand of coneflower; it’s definitely a bee magnet,too.

I do have many other blooms in my garden right now, including some surprise daylilies and my poor knockout roses struggling to survive the Japanese beetle attacks, but I think I’ll save them for another post. I don’t want anything to take attention away from today’s star.

“If you are a new gardener or just want a plant that is reliable, purple coneflower will leave you feeling like an expert.” ( Kahtz ) Ah, no wonder I like them!

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is sponsored on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her to see other posts today.


  1. Rose,

    I loved this post and it has little to do with a mention of me (thank you) and a whole lot to do with the story you told! When I was researching prairies...up popped Illinois...The Prairie State! and when you drive through, you know what they mean...flat/gentle hills and perfectly wonderful soil...evidenced, as you said, by all the farms! It is wonderful that there is such a strong movement/effort to save some prairie or even recreate it around the state. That is exactly how we have managed to save the remaining cedar glades in Tennessee; getting people invested in their unique beauty.

    I love all the purple flowered coneflowers, too! You have showcased them beautifully and will no doubt help online nurseries sell out of Echinacea pallida!


  2. Hi Rose, thank you for more education on the coneflower. In the beginning of my serious gardening I thought this plant too coarse, what an ignoramous I was! In Texas they grew in the tough conditions there and I was beginning to see the light about the beauty of this wonderful plant. We brought them with us to this TN garden and have added more and more, despite a virus infection that made me rip every single one out! They are growing again and we are adding the new fancy ones, just wish they weren't so expensive. But some are finally coming from seed of those, hooray!

  3. Tina, Thanks. Of course, I'm jealous of your Tennessee coneflowers:)

    Gail, It was interesting to find out more about the prairie here. There are actually quite a few places in the area that are attempting prairie restoration. I've seen nothing, though, to compare to your cedar glade of coneflowers!

    Frances, Oh dear, I didn't know there was a virus that could infect coneflowers. I have noticed this year for the first time that Japanese beetles like them, too, though they don't damage the plant as much as they do roses. I do want to plant a few of the newer varieties like your Sunset; good to hear they might self-seed!

  4. Hi Rose....I love the history you so kindly posted....makes things so interesting.

    I love the coneflower....I am hooked on this plant, and that is down to you. I am actually preparing beds near my new water feature....especially for this great plant.
    So coneflowers are coming to Kent in the not too distant future.

    Thank you dear Rose for your help.....

  5. Oh I just adore coneflowers. Mine are just the tiniest of buds at the moment. Hopefully they'll take centre stage for the next Blooms Day!

  6. Cheryl, You definitely have to have a few coneflowers. I actually got quite a few photos of the bees on them, so many I couldn't decide which one to use! And they are definitely a butterfly magnet; later in the summer I should have lots of monarchs (and others I can't identify) swarming about them.

    VP, Glad you like them, too. Isn't it interesting how one plant flowers at different times in different places? A few people had coneflowers on their June Bloom Day post. Mine were just budding then.

  7. Rose, It is nice to meet you! Thank you for stopping over at my blog, Ledge and Gardens, and saying hello! I will have to post a bloom day a bit later. I almost forgot until I visited a few posts! I loved your last post about 'the blues'. Sucks doesn't it? I am happy to hear you have conquered them for today. Sometimes blogger doesn't let me post my URL and name. Layanee at Ledge and Gardens

  8. Great post. The coneflower is a perfect choice for anyone living in the central US. It is well adapted to our climate and needs little additional care.

    The newer hybrids are pretty, but according to people I've spoken with, they aren't as reliable as the species. That's been my experience too.

  9. What a great post about Purple Cone flowers. They are beauties and as you say so reliable. I could not think of a thing bad to say about them. Not that I would want to of course. I just loves em.

  10. I live in Alabama and have planted a coneflower...The plant looks healthy but not a sign of a bloom...:(...maybe it won't bloom the first year?

  11. Rose, thathks for all the background material on prairies. I have such an interest in seeing some of it restored; I should probably join a restoration group. It's fascinatling to read about the how tough the plants are to survive our climate. I never knew we got more rain than London, England!

  12. Wonderful post Rose! I love coneflowers. I'm an almost-compulsive deadheader, but coneflowers are one of a few things I make an exception for. I have a birdbath but no feeder. Instead we have shrubs, flowers, and trees with fruit and seeds for the birds. I leave any blooms with seeds the birds enjoy, and coneflowers top the list, bedraggled looks and all.

  13. That was a memorable post. I shall have to re-read that. What a photogenic flower that is. I always think of it as a Daisy that is letting its hair down ;-)

  14. I'd better get some of those purple coneflowers then!

  15. The coneflower blooms and its a sure sign that summer is really here bringing bees butterflies and more!
    Like you I love to see coneflowers in my butterfly garden!

  16. Ginger/Layanee, Thanks for dropping by. I enjoyed visiting your blog.

    Marnie, Glad to hear your comments on the hybrid echinaceas. I've seen so many of these on other sites, and I want one! But I've heard from knowledgeable people that they haven't performed as well as hoped.

    Lisa, Glad you love them, too!

    Pat, They usually bloom the first year, but maybe a young one takes a little longer. Thanks for stopping by.

    Joyce, I was going to mention you in the post and then I forgot--sorry. Now I know where your blog title comes from!:)

  17. Garden Girl, Thanks for the encouragement on leaving the coneflowers alone. I guess I want a neater-looking garden, but I'd like the birds to find them, too. "PMS on steroids"--I like that:)

    Liz, I don't know if they grow as well in the UK as here, but I think so. This is one plant that is very forgiving of neglectful gardeners like me:)

    Nature Girl, By August my flowerbeds are swarming with butterflies--something to look forward to on those hot days.

  18. I love coneflowers too. They are so easy. You gave a lot of great info about them and it was interesting to hear the Illinois and Tennessee specifics.
    I also like your Russian sage. The color is a perfect compliment to the coneflower.

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  20. Aren't coneflowers the best? So tough, so reliable, such a big show. The Echinacea 'Twilight' I had was hardy, but I had to dig it out because it was virused (the virus causes those distorted blooms you saw on my post "Trouble in Paradise"). Hopefully, you'll never have the problem. I have so many Coneflowers that I deadhead all of those in in the front garden. I leave the seedheads on the plants at the back of the back border along the fence. With all the rain we've had this year, one of my Coneflowers is over 4 feet tall. I didn't know they got that big.

  21. Great information, Rose--I love coneflowers, too--I have mainly the purpurea, but I have a lovely white one as well. So I really appreciate all I learned from your posting.

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  23. I really enjoyed this post about the coneflowers. At one time, I thought I didn't want so many in my garden, but now, they are beacons for bees and butterflies and provide bursts of purple amongst white daisies and other pale flowers.

    I should add to my 'gardeners life list' to see a native stand of praire. I think I've probably driven past some, but didn't stop to look. My great-grandmother was from Illinois, Gibson City, I think. Maybe I should just take a drive one day (when gas prices come down again, I say optimistically!) and see what it is like "over there".

    Thanks for a great post for garden bloggers' bloom day.

  24. Cindy, I like the purple with pink combo, too. I'm learning more about native plants each year. Thanks for stopping by.

    MMD, Some of my coneflowers are 4 feet tall as well; you're right, it must be all the rain this year. Thanks for the idea on deadheading the more visible ones--that's a good idea.

    Cosmo, I haven't been gardening that long, so it's been fun for me to find out more information about a plant. Thanks for dropping by.

    Carol, You probably have some Prairie Restoration places near you, too. But I would like to see the original--I think there a couple that would be on your way to Gibson City, which isn't that far from me.

  25. What gorgeous photos you took of your cone flowers! And you have russian sage blooming too! I planted cone flowers for the first time this year and they finally look like they're getting established. Russian Sage is on my wish list :)

  26. You made a great choice for spotlight...I think that the dried seedheads add a little interest (well until the snow completely buries them). I have see some start to bloom in other gardens in the neighborhood, but mine are still waiting...

  27. Wonderful post, Rose. I'm a big fan of Coneflowers as well. I'm trying the orange colored ones this year and now there's a yellow one as well.

  28. what a great GBBD post. Echinaceas are among my favorite plants. Unfortunately they don't do so well here, but I keep on trying. I hope that once established they will be more heat and drought tolerant

  29. Hi Rose, I'm sure I commented here the other day!! I must be loosing my mind! ( or is it my age?!!)

    I would love to grow some eccinacia (spelling? / tired!) I must try next year. Yours look beautiful. Here people take a remidy of Eccenacia as a dfence against the common cold and other minor complaints. It is supposed to work well.

    I am looking forward to your photo of the true Prairie, I can't quite imagine it.

  30. Rose,
    I bought a rose from the New England Wildflower Society this spring called the Prairie Rose, and they said the only native rose. No blooms yet, but when they come you'll get a photo. Loved your posting and wonder why I have no echinacea. Hmmmm.

  31. Beautiful pics! Loved your poem on my blog. You should write more of them!

  32. Amy, I really like the wispy look of Russian sage, but give it plenty of room--mine is overtaking other plants!

    Chrisnd, I think the seedheads look interesting in the winter, too, but I know to some they just look like dead plants:)

    Carolyn Gail, Yes, I want some other colors, too!

    Gintoino, You have so many other lovely and different plants that I can't grow here, even if the coneflowers don't do well for you.

    Suburbia, Don't feel bad; apparently I did the same thing on your last post. You may have to wait for awhile for a pic of the prairie--it's so hot here right now I'm not venturing too far outside!

    Commonweeder (interesting name!), How exciting to have a prairie rose! I imagine it's not very showy, though; but neither am I:)

    Wendy, Limericks are fun to write, but I'm not very good at writing other poetry, including my feeble attempt at a haiku here.

  33. I love purple flowers and you seem to have so many different types. You must have a very large garden!


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