All About Echinacea

echinacea bannerechinacea banner

By Katie Elzer-Peters, Garden expert, designer and writer.

Echinacea means cold relief to some people. Capsules made from the plant are a staple at stores stocking herbal remedies. Environmentalists and activists think of Echinacea in the context of habitat restoration and use it to provide food for pollinators. Newbies embrace Echinacea because they’re so easy to grow, while plant fanatics have spent the last decade snatching up new hybrids and going coneflower crazy for plants such as ‘Evening Glow’ (bi-color pink and yellow petals) and ‘Pink Double Delight’ (bright pink petals & soft, cushiony center).

Really, regardless of your gardening style or level of experience, it’s hard not to be excited about Echinacea! They’re drought-tolerant, birds and butterflies love them, they don’t scramble through the garden eating up every inch of available space, they will grow in terrible soil, and they require little maintenance. I’m certainly in love.

Coneflowers in Grandma’s Garden

Echinacea plants are native to the eastern half of the United States, and they grow natively from Texas up to North Dakota and eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. However, they’ll flourish in just about any garden, continent-wide, given the right conditions.

multi-colored echinaceamulti-colored echinacea
Multi-colored Echinacea flowers in bloom - Coneflowers are not just pink!
I’m sure my first experience with Echinacea was walking through my grandma’s garden. She always called them “coneflowers,” (which is their common name). Grandma was all about flowers—showy phlox and easy-to-grow zinnias. She let hummingbird and black-eyed Susan vines go wild. I’m not sure she ever uttered a botanical name in her life.

For something to earn a spot in the garden it had to offer a few qualities: showy, colorful flowers, easy to grow, and a favorite of butterflies. She wanted her garden to be a source of cut flowers and butterfly nectar. It tickled her to no end, sending me pictures of herself standing next to some giant plant, a butterfly perched on the blooms next to her shoulders.

Because they are plants from my childhood, growing Echinacea gives me a link to my mom (who also grew coneflowers) and my grandma, ensuring there’s always a piece of them at home with me.

Echinacea, Explained

Echinacea is a genus of 11 species of herbaceous perennials native to North America. The botanical name comes from the Greek word echinos, which means “spiny” like a hedgehog. That, and the plant’s common name, refer to the spiky cone of seeds that form the center of the flowerheads. Echinacea purpurea, the purple coneflower (even though it has pinkish petals) is one of the most commonly-grown species. There are now dozens of hybrids available in a huge variety of heights with a wide range of flower colors, from bright pink to white to two-toned yellow, orange, and more. Some have flowers that maintain the traditionally recognizable daisy shape and a large center cone, while others look like pom poms. Some have flat-topped flowers. Whatever your garden’s color scheme, there is likely an Echinacea that will fit.

  1. PowWow® Wild Berry Echinacea

    This unique Echinacea produces showy, rose-purple blooms that last throughout the summer, even without deadheading. PowWow Wild Berry puts out more flowers than any other Coneflower ...

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    PowWow® Wild Berry Echinacea Coneflower PowWow® Wild Berry PAS702917 Echinacea purpurea PowWow® Wild Berry PAS702917
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    This unique Echinacea produces showy, rose-purple blooms that last throughout the summer, even without deadheading. PowWow Wild Berry puts out more flowers than any other Coneflower variety and will attract a variety if pollinators. Sturdy, upright stems make this echinacea a great choice for windy spots and cutting gardens alike. (Echinacea purpurea)
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  2. KISMET® Intense Orange Echinacea, Echinacea hybrid, Photo Courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

    Intense Orange Echinacea (Coneflower) dazzles with extraordinary flower-power. Large blooms emerge pumpkin orange shifting to deep vermilion-red as they mature. If the sheer volume o...

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    KISMET® Intense Orange Echinacea KISMET® Intense Orange Coneflower Echinacea KISMET® Intense Orange
    $20.98 Sale $13.64
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Intense Orange Echinacea (Coneflower) dazzles with extraordinary flower-power. Large blooms emerge pumpkin orange shifting to deep vermilion-red as they mature. If the sheer volume of blossoms doesn’t make you swoon, the vibrant color certainly will. Flowers stand on sturdy stems atop deep green mounding foliage. An excellent cut flower and lovely addition to pollinator gardens. (Echinacea hybrid)
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  3. Echinacea Butterfly Rainbow Marcella, Coneflower

    Echinacea ‘Rainbow Marcela’ is a standout in a field of champions! ‘Rainbow Marcela’s’ has beautiful coral-pink petals that turn a soft, raspberry pink around the center co...

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    Rainbow Marcella Echinacea Rainbow Marcella Coneflower (Patent Pending) Echinacea Rainbow Marcella (Patent Pending)
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    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Echinacea ‘Rainbow Marcela’ is a standout in a field of champions! ‘Rainbow Marcela’s’ has beautiful coral-pink petals that turn a soft, raspberry pink around the center cone. These hardy Coneflowers are compact, heavy bloomers, with long-lasting flowers that remain colorful until the first frost. Pollinator favorites, they are a perfect fit along a border, or in a container. (Echinacea)
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  4. Green Twister Echinacea

    Coneflower ‘Green Twister’s’ eye-popping lime green blooms with magenta purple centers are a true garden stand out. ‘Green Twister’s’ petals curve gently forward giving t...

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    Green Twister Echinacea Green Twister Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Green Twister
    $10.98 Sale $7.14
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Coneflower ‘Green Twister’s’ eye-popping lime green blooms with magenta purple centers are a true garden stand out. ‘Green Twister’s’ petals curve gently forward giving them a decidedly different look that adds to its allure. Your garden will shout with uniqueness with ‘Green Twister’! Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love this easy to grow, water-thrifty perennial. (Echinacea)
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The reason the botanical name, Echinacea, is so familiar to most people is, yes, the cold & flu aisle at the drug store. Roots of Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia were traditionally used by Native Americans to heal a wide range of ailments. Today, you find extracts in cough drops, and capsules of ground up plant parts touting immune boosting benefits. Whether it works for you is up to you. Be careful if you partake, as some people are allergic to Echinacea.

Planting a Pollinator Garden: Featuring Echinacea

If you wanted to invite birds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and other pollinators to your garden and the only plant you planted was Echinacea, you’d still be miles ahead of other gardeners. In the 1990s everyone became really excited about butterflies, and why not, right? They’re gorgeous. As a whole, gardeners have clued into the fact that in addition to supporting butterflies, we can do a lot of good for our environment and our food supply by supporting all pollinators.

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Many types of bees are regular visitors to Echinacea.
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A Swallowtail butterfly drinks nectar from Echinacea.

To feature Echinacea in your pollinator garden, choose a site in full sun with well-drained, easy to work soil. (Echinacea can handle partial sun, but many other pollinator favorites will not.) The National Pollinator Garden Network suggests planting “targets” of pollinator plants, which means large groups. Pick out a few plants that play well with Echinaceas (Russian Sage, Yarrow, Phlox, Rudbeckia, Goldenrod, Sedum, and Bee Balm) and plant blocks of them together in the landscape or flower bed. This will create a dramatic effect, and you’ll have something blooming almost all summer long - another key recommendation for pollinator gardens.

Add a water source, such as a bird bath, and limit pesticide use (You shouldn’t need them—these plants have few pest problems), and you’re good to go.

Growing Echinacea from Seed

I absolutely love growing wildflowers, and Echinacea is one, from seed. Many wildflower seeds, particularly those of perennial flowers, require a cold, damp treatment of their seeds in order for the seeds to germinate. If I were to guess, I’d say this is an evolutionary trait that keeps the seeds from sprouting as soon as they drop from the plant and allows for better dispersal and survival. (If a seed sprouts during a warm week in October the plant might not survive the winter.)

  1. Yellow Prairie Coneflower Seeds, Ratibida columnaris

    The droopy, lemon-yellow daisy that's native to the plains. Tough, useful plant for full sun in dry areas. Perennial....

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    Yellow Prairie Coneflower Seeds Yellow Prairie Coneflower Ratibida columnaris
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    The droopy, lemon-yellow daisy that's native to the plains. Tough, useful plant for full sun in dry areas. Perennial.
    Learn More
  2. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and swallowtail butterfly

    Purple Coneflower, also called Echinacea, is famous across the country for its stunning purple flowers and golden center cones. A perennial butterfly and bee magnet, this native wild...

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    Purple Coneflower Seeds Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
    As low as $19.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Purple Coneflower, also called Echinacea, is famous across the country for its stunning purple flowers and golden center cones. A perennial butterfly and bee magnet, this native wildflower is extremely easy to grow and looks equally at home in the garden, meadow, or vase. Leave your Purple Coneflower planting in place over the winter to attract goldfinches and other songbirds. 100% pure, non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free seeds are guaranteed to grow.
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  3. Yellow Clasping Coneflower Seeds, Rudbeckia amplexicaulis

    This is one of the "other" Black-eyed Susans. Grows to 3 ft with small flowers in gold splotched brown. Annual....

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    Clasping Coneflower Seeds Clasping Coneflower Rudbeckia amplexicaulis or Dracopis amplexicaulis
    As low as $10.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    This is one of the "other" Black-eyed Susans. Grows to 3 ft with small flowers in gold splotched brown. Annual.
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  4. Purple Pale Coneflower Seeds, Echinacea pallida

    This is the "pale" cousin of famed Purple Coneflower, and often the echinacea used in medicinal preparations. Perennial....

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    Pale Coneflower Seeds Pale Coneflower Echinacea pallida
    $3.95
    Per Packet
    This is the "pale" cousin of famed Purple Coneflower, and often the echinacea used in medicinal preparations. Perennial.
    Learn More

Sow Echinacea seeds outdoors in the fall so they can undergo a natural scarification process (freezing, thawing and cracking of the hard outer case) during the winter. Lightly cover. I always sow thickly to leave a little for the birds; they will inevitably find the seeds and eat some. Growing Echinacea this way is simple and fun. I think it’s like a treasure hunt in the spring to see what sprouted.


About the Author: Katie is a writer, runner, and reader, living in southern coastal North Carolina. Her favorite garden is her "wild flower patch" where something new is always blooming (or taking over).

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